Yak-shaving Definition


(idiomatic) Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.

I was doing a bit of yak shaving this morning, and it looks like it might have paid off.

(idiomatic) A less useful activity done to consciously or unconsciously procrastinate about a larger but more useful task.

I looked at a reference manual for my car just to answer one question, but I spent the whole afternoon with my nose buried in it, just yak shaving, and got no work done on the car itself.

Origin of Yak-shaving

  • Coined by Carlin Vieri in his time at the MIT AI Lab (1993-8) after viewing a 1991 episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show featuring "Yak Shaving Day," a Christmas-like Holiday where participants hang diapers instead of stockings, stuff rubber boots with cole slaw, and watch for the shaven yak to float by in his enchanted canoe.

    From Wiktionary

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