You Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

Informant: You can’t see the forest for the trees.

The informant (my grandmother) was born and raised in Texas. She spent many years moving from place to place across the world with her husband, a banker, before settling in Connecticut long enough to work as an English teacher at the Greenwich Country Day School. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

The informant told me that she told this proverb to her students when they failed to see the bigger picture of her class as a whole. When students complained that endless grammar worksheets were “boring,” she pointed out that they were looking at only a tree in the larger forest; grammar worksheets were an important part of building a greater ecosystem of knowledge of the English language.

This proverb appears in John Heywood’s 1546 collection of proverbs.

Citation: Heywood, John, and Julian Sharman. The Proverbs of John Heywood. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1874. Print.