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can't see the forest for the trees

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An expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole: “The congressman became so involved in the wording of his bill that he couldn't see the forest for the trees; he did not realize that the bill could never pass.”

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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can't see the forest for the trees

Also, can't see the wood for the trees. Focus only on small details and fail to understand larger plans or principles, as in Alex argues about petty cash and overlooks the budget—he can't see the forest for the trees. This expression was already a proverb in John Heywood's 1546 collection.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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