Last modified on 11 May 2013, at 15:52

Talk:see the forest for the trees

  • Discussion
Return to "see the forest for the trees" page.

Surely this the wrong way round: to be "unable to see the forest for the trees" means to be unable to grasp the big picture because of a concern with small (trivial) details. I guess to be "unable to see the trees for the forest" would mean to be unable to focus on (important) details of a situation because of a concern with the big picture 82.41.105.76 18:06, 10 Dec 2004 (UTC)

First, the idiom here is "see the trees for the forest" (or vice versa). Here are the google hits:
  • "see the trees for the forest": 57K
  • "see the trees for the forest" -"can't see the trees for the forest": 1K
  • "see the forest for the trees": 47K
  • "see the forest for the trees" -"can't see the forest for the trees": 26K
Many of the uses I saw for "trees for the forest" seemed to be cute take-offs on "forest for the trees", generally involving literal trees and forests of some kind. Certainly "forest for the trees" is what I've always heard used for the meaning given, and I'm not sure that "trees for the forest" is recognized idiomatically. Even in one site that compares different modes of perception, "trees for the forest" is defined in opposition to "forest for the trees."
I'm going to move this article to "see the forest for the trees". If anyone can find firm evidence that "see the trees for the forest" is consistently used for a particular idiomatic meaning, then the entry should be fleshed out. -dmh 18:47, 10 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Feckless creation...Edit

OMG, I've created an article but didn't pay a lot of attention to it, was concerned about the matter at hand, trying to comprehend the phrase and what to do about all 4 variants, and as a result -- somewhat sophistic incompetence. Sorry!

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I have only heard this idiom as "see the forest through the trees" but it only gets 5k Google hits. Is that something I can/should add under a Variations or Alternate spellings heading? Mancomb 2004/12/10 2:15 EST

5K? Are you kidding? We should add this entry for sure. Some decide whether to add an entry that has at most ~200 Google hits or not. In such a case, I believe, we had better do that. Maybe just a mere redirect? --Dennis Valeev 19:21, 10 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Who the hell says forest for the trees. This is nonsense. It is through the trees. For the trees doesn't even make sense. I'm not editing the page but someone should.

It does make sense. It means you can't see the forest because the trees are in the way. And it's very commonly said. Equinox 20:28, 2 June 2009 (UTC)
Originally it is "Forest through the trees". The saying gets twisted somewhere in the souther states at some point in history (big surprise) and replaces the original "through the trees".
Unfortunately, I was taught this idiom had the exact opposite meaning. In my version, "for" does not mean "because of," but instead describes the trees as an unseen characteristic of the forest. So, if you "do not see the forest for its trees," you can see the forest (big picture) but can not see the trees (potentially important details). An unrelated example of how "for" is used might be; I did not see her for her meanness.

Not so about the southern states. I have always heard for (which means "because of") the trees and the people saying it are not southern. If you compare "for," which is a somewhat older way of saying "because of," and "through," I think you'll see that "He can't see the forest because of the trees" makes a lot more sense (for the purposes of the idiom) than "He can't see the forest through the trees." I would imagine the "through" variation came about because people have become less familiar with this meaning of "for" and still want to use the idiom.

What about "can't see the wood for the trees" ? where "wood" means "small forrest". (If you go down to the woods today . . ) - or does "wood" mean the substance that constitutes the "tree" . . . ?