Not seeing the wood for the trees

Recently a friend asked if there is an idiom in English like I cannot see the wood for the trees, which refers to hearing. We couldn’t think of any, but maybe you can.

This expression means that you “cannot see, understand, or focus on a situation in its entirety due to being preoccupied with minor details” [source]. Apparently in North America the equivalent is “I cannot see the forest for the trees”. The wood refers to a small forest, rather than the material that comes from trees.

Here be trees!

There is an equivalent idiom in Esperanto: Li en arbaro sidas kaj arbojn ne vidas (He sits in the forest and doesn’t see trees).

The equvalent in Italian is avere gli occhi foderati di prociutto (to have one’s eyes lined with ham).

Are there similar idioms in other languages?

In Russian the word for tree is дерево (derevo), which came up in my Russian lessons today. It is comes from the Proto-Slavic *dervo (tree), from Proto-Indo-European *dóru (tree), which is also the root of the English word tree, and of the Welsh derw and the Cornish derow (oak trees) [source].

The photo is one I took of Ashley Jones Field in Bangor.

6 thoughts on “Not seeing the wood for the trees

  1. Simon, the phrase that comes to mind is, Not being able to see the ‘big picture’.

  2. Fixed form in German: sieht/sehen den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht, “do(es)n’t see the wood/forest because there are so many trees”.

  3. Same in Czech: Pro stromy nevidí les (Doesnt see the forest for the trees)
    And the same meaning in Slovak: Pre stromy nevidieť les

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