The devil is in the details

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by DreamerX, Jan 24, 2014.

  1. DreamerX Member

    Does your language have an expression similar to “the devil is in the details?” This idiom means that details are important and one should always be thorough when completing a task. A person’s success or failure at accomplishing something very often depends on minor things than can easily be overlooked. I’m not too aware of its origins, but there is definitely a religious context involved. Sometimes, the word “details” is used in the singular form as a collective noun, i.e, “in the detail.”
  2. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    In Greek it's «η λεπτομέρεια κάνει τη διαφορά» [i lepto'meri.a 'kani ti ðʝafo'ra] --> the detail makes the difference.

    Lately, the anglicism «ο διάβολος κρύβεται στις λεπτομέρειες» [o 'ðʝavolos 'krivete stis lepto'] --> the devil hides/is hidding in the details is also used.


    Fem. noun «λεπτομέρεια» [lepto'meri.a] --> detail < Classical fem. noun «λεπτομέρειᾱ» lĕptŏméreiā --> anything consisting of small particles < compound; Classical adj. «λεπτός» lĕptós --> thin, lean, weak, fine, delicate (with obscure etymology and no cognates outside Greek) + Classical neut. noun «μέρος» mérŏs --> part, share, section, row, rank (PIE *smer, to think of, remember)

    Masc. noun «διάβολος» ['ðʝavolos] --> devil < Classical masc. noun «διάβολος» dĭắbŏlŏs --> slanderer, calumniator; the LXX Jewish scholars who translated Jewish scripture into Koine Greek, used «διάβολος» to render the Hebrew שָׂטָן (Śāṭān) --> adversary, accuser < Classical v. «διαβάλλω» dĭăbállō --> lit. to throw or carry over or across, metaph. to calumniate, misrepresent, attack someone's character < compound; prefix, preposition and adverb «διὰ» dīà --> in two, apart, through (PIE *dis-, apart cf Lat. dis-, apart, in two > It./Sp./Fr./Eng. dis-; Fr. de-, dé-, dés-; Por./Rom./Sp/ des-; Proto-Germanic *twiz- > Ger. zir-/zer, Eng. to-, Dt. te-; Alb. ç-, apart) + Classical verb «βάλλω» bállō --> to throw, hit (PIE *gʷelh₁-, to hit by throwing with no certain cognates)
  3. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I just read Er is een addertje onder het gras as an equivalent (there is a little viper under the grass), suggesting indeed that the danger is in the details, not seen at first sight. (We sometimes refer to 'small letters' as the part of the contract that is printed very small and is not often read, and then say: 'let op de kleine lettertjes', 'Mind the ...')
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2014
  4. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    I have never heard anyone say this in English. I think it is a German proverb: "Der Teufel steckt im Detail".
  5. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    Fdb, I remember hearing it at least twice in English in the last couple of years on the radio... Anyway.

    In French, I heard "le diable est dans les détails" just the other day, which sounded like a calque to me but apparently it exists.
    We couldn't find anything better though:
    [h=1]The devil is in the details[/h]
  6. learnerr Senior Member

    If you want a translation in Russian, then whatever it could be, nobody talks like that. If you'd like to see an adage of this kind in Russian, then the word "detail" is perhaps too abstract for us, we'd rather express its meaning by making examples (can't think of any proverb like this at the moment), or have its meaning made certain by an appropriate context where it makes sense to talk about concrete details; this makes a good sentence, but not an adage ("Тут, Вась, понимаешь, важны мелочи" – "See, Vasia, here what is important are trivia"). I personally have read this saying only in English, and it never occurred to me that it is possible to translate it into Russian.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2014
  7. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    There is another one in Dutch: "Het venijn zit hem in de staart": literally: "the venom is in the tail" or "the sting is in the tail". This does not literally mean that it is in the end (it could, but not necessarily): it means that the "venom" is in what you realize last, i.e.: in the details.
  8. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Excellent association, had not thought of that, but that is indeed the meaning (Latin: in cauda venenum). I have just been wondering whether there are no similar expressions based on the 'slot' "In the ... [is] the ...", but I cannot find any so far.

    Just by the way: in Van Dale's Taalkalender (2013) I just happened to read that one Blixa Bargeld, member/ leader of the German band EinstürzendeNeubauten, said that in German!
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2014
  9. OneStroke Senior Member

    Hong Kong, China
    Chinese - Cantonese (HK)
    In Hong Kong (probably not the rest of the sinosphere), we take the phrase directly from English: 魔鬼就在細節裏. :)
  10. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    As OneStroke said, Hong Kongese translated the idiom directly.
    But in Mainland China, people would have no idea what it means.

    There ARE some modern Chinese quotes express the same meaning though, probably from foreign quotes too.
    For example, 细节决定成败. "Detail determines success or fail."
  11. mataripis

    mataripis Senior Member

    In Tagalog "Detail" become Detalye but it is possible that the word " Naka abang" o naka handa can be used. So "The devil is in detail" can be translated as "Kasamaan ay naka abang". or "Kamalasan ay naghihintay".
  12. franknagy

    franknagy Senior Member

    The Hungarian counterpart matches word by word with the English expression:
    "Az ördög a részletekben van."

    Ördög: devil, részlet=detail, van=is.
  13. ilocas2 Senior Member

    translation in Czech:

    ďábel/čert je v detailech
  14. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    While reading these contributions again, I thought of what we call 'the kleine lettertjes' [the small letters] in Dutch. That refers to the details of a contract, written in a very compact way (small letters) but with millions of details that might affect the main 'sense'/intention of the contract in a powerful way: one might think one is safe, but then there seem to be so many conditions that one does not feel that safe any longer...

    I guess there are a lot of different ways of referring to that...
  15. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Hungarian --- Az ördög a részletekben rejlik.

    German --- Der Teufel steckt im Detail.
  16. Nino83 Senior Member

    Il diavolo si nasconde nei dettagli.
  17. Hércules Xavier

    Hércules Xavier New Member

    Portuguese BR
    Here in Brazil, we say "o diabo mora (está) nos detalhes"

    o = the
    Diabo = devils
    mora = lives
    (está) = (be / found)
    nos = in the
    detalhes = details

    Interesting question is to see the word 'tail' is condensed on 'de-tail'.
  18. DaylightDelight Senior Member

    Japanese - Tokyo
    Japanese: 大事の前の小事 (lit. small things before a big thing).
    However, this saying has two completely contradictory usages:
    1. You need to pay attention to small details in order to accomplish a bigger something.
    2. You shouldn't get distracted by small matters when you are facing a bigger something.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2016
  19. Awwal12

    Awwal12 Senior Member

    Moscow, the RF
    Probably so, although we do have a direct (and apparently rather recent) calque in the written language.
    The search in the Russian national corpora indicates that from the early 2000s there are twelve hits of such kind (дьявол в деталях, дьявол прячется в деталях, дьявол скрывается в деталях, дьявол кроется в деталях).

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