In the weeds

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J.K. Trotter, "Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti: The Gawker Interview", 4/22/2015 (From Ben Zimmer, who picked it up from Sebastian Stockman on Twitter — emphasis added):

Keenan: They’re running the Pepsi Twitter account?
Ben (to Jonah): Yes. Is that exactly accurate? I’m not in the weeds in this, but they had been—
Jonah: They had been making content for Pepsi.
Ben: Because they were running the account.
Jonah: And it was—I’m not in the weeds on this, either, but I know the creative team was doing real-time marketing with Pepsi and posting stuff—

Sebastian asks "doesn't 'in the weeds' usually mean 'out of depth/in trouble'?"

Ben notes that this "seems to be the 'involved with details' meaning you discerned in your 2006 post" ("Deep in the Hookergate weeds", 5/8/2006). Ben is right, as usual, but this is a particular extension of that usage, where "in the weeds" means not just "involved with details" but "knowledgeable about details". Here's another example, from Kyle Smith, "De Blasio’s chronic lateness shows he doesn’t respect NYers", NY Post 4/15/2015

A former colleague who worked with de Blasio when he was managing Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign in 2000 told The Observer, “He’s a surface guy, total surface. He’s not in the weeds. He’s more about the politics, not policy.”

To other staffers, according to The Observer, “De Blasio seemed less interested in policy details than big-picture ideas, delegating those tasks out to staffers who would then brief him verbally or in short ‘pro’- and ‘con’-filled memos. In at least one case, Mr. de Blasio appeared to be unaware of points raised in his own report, released with great fanfare to the press.”

See my 2006 post for a discussion of the "overwhelmed by circumstances" meaning, which comes from the restaurant world, as well as the basic "(over-)involved with details" meaning, which has been common for some time in journalism and politics.


  1. MattF said,

    April 25, 2015 @ 11:43 am

    Yeah, I've heard this one for the past few years in the engineering world. It means 'getting deeply into the technical details."

  2. AW said,

    April 25, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

    Interesting. I always thought of the phrase as restaurant jargon.

  3. AntC said,

    April 25, 2015 @ 3:50 pm

    In IT Project Management, in the weeds means so concerned with detail as to have lost the big picture. (Same lack of effectiveness as out of your depth, I guess.) Can't see the wood for the trees.

  4. Nancy Friedman said,

    April 25, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

    If you're not in the weeds, you're probably out of pocket.

  5. David L said,

    April 25, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

    I hear this in government bureaucracy circles, generally with the same pejorative sense that AntC refers to.

    The opposite of being down in the weeds is to take the 30,000 foot view.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    April 26, 2015 @ 7:50 am

    I thought I had something useful to add with the following:


    In diner lingo, "In the weeds" signifies a waitress or cook who cannot keep up with the tables or orders.

    For a discussion of "stay out of the weeds", see here:


    But I see that Mark basically covered this in his 2006 post.

  7. Dave Noble said,

    April 26, 2015 @ 12:13 pm

    Another source for this phrase, very familiar to those with a military background – particularly army – In the Weeds is used to refer to a supposedly senior military appointment who, instead of dealing with higher level, if not strategic, concerns, falls back to his comfort zone of tactical issues: "in the weeds", where the foot soldiers are.

  8. Alan Palmer said,

    April 27, 2015 @ 5:15 am

    Interesting. I'm British and have never encountered this expression before, which I suppose is understandable if it originated in American diner slang.

  9. Bean said,

    April 27, 2015 @ 8:42 am

    I immediately understood the usage perfectly (but then I have worked for the government for a while now) but I would always use it with "down": "down in the weeds". I'm an oceanographer though, so my mental image is always of a small boat getting caught up in a weedy shoreline – not land-based weeds at all – and it just occurred to me from reading this, that might not be what everyone else is picturing.

  10. KevinM said,

    April 27, 2015 @ 11:55 am

    Could the speaker have confused it with "in the loop," the expression made famous by GHW Bush?

  11. Ed Rorie said,

    April 27, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

    I thought it was a golf expression (I.e., strayed from the fairway).

  12. etv 13 said,

    April 30, 2015 @ 12:41 am

    @ Ed Rorie: Me too.

  13. ajay said,

    May 1, 2015 @ 9:49 am

    I would assume that it's aviation-derived – if you're down in the weeds then you're flying very low (also called "nap of the earth") and so you have a great view of details but maybe not such a good idea of the overall picture. As David L says, the opposite of taking the view from 30,000 feet.

    And this column

    suggests a sense in which this meaning has come to mean "overwhelmed" in the diner sense; you get too tied up with dealing with the next detail that you don't have time to step back and think about the bigger picture.
    (The army phrase for this concept of forcing yourself to leave the immediate problem and think about the overall situation is, rather splendidly, "taking a condor moment".)

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