The idiom "the devil is in the detail" refers to a catch or mysterious element hidden in the details.
The idiom "the devil is in the detail" derives from the earlier phrase, "God is in the detail;" expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; i.e. details are important. This original idiom has been attributed to a number of different individuals, most notably to German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) by The New York Times in Mies' 1969 obituary, however it is generally accepted to not have originated with him. The expression also appears to have been a favorite of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866–1929), though Warburg's biographer, E.M. Gombrich, is likewise uncertain if it originated with Warburg. An earlier form "Le bon Dieu est dans le détail" (the good God is in the detail) is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880). Bartlett's Familiar Quotations lists the saying's author as anonymous. Google's n-gram function reveals that the phrase "the devil is in the details" does not appear in print before ca. 1975.
Due to common use, the phrase itself has a number of forms: (The / A) Devil (is) in the Detail(s). The original expression of "God is in the detail" most likely had the expression ending with "detail" (without an s), colloquial usage often ends the idiom as "details"; detail, without an s, can be used as both a singular and collective noun.
More recently, the expressions "Governing (is) in the Detail(s)" and "(The) Truth (is) in the Detail(s)" have appeared.
- Bartlett, John, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature, 17th ed., Little, Brown and Company, November 2002
- Titelman, Gregory, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Random House Reference, March 5, 1996
- 'Devil in the Details', track #8 on the Bright Eyes album "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn"
- Referenced in a track on The Boards of Canada's album "Geogaddi".
- A song by band Placebo
- Also the title of a song by the British electronica duo The Chemical Brothers for the 2011 Hanna movie soundtrack.
- Mentioned in the song 'Short Song About The 10 Freeway' by The Mountain Goats
- Mentioned in the song 'What you made me (ugli)' by Ghost Machine
- 'Devil's in the Detail', title of track #8 on the album "The Skinny" by Ian Siegal & the Young Sons
- The fourth episode of the fourth season of Psych contains the phrase.
- China Mieville has written a short story inspired by the phrase - included in his collection Looking for Jake
- ^ a b c d Titelman, Gregory, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Random House Reference, March 5, 1996
- ^ Bartlett, John, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature, 17th ed., Little, Brown and Company, November 2002
- ^ "Detail | Define Detail at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/detail. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- ^ "Ian Siegal : The Skinny : Audio". Nugene Records. http://nugenerecords.com/catalogue.php?page=listen&id=NUG1101. Retrieved 2012-07-15.