yak shaving

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The fictional character Pepper, a girl wearing plaid and a large hat, is shaving a yak while explaining to someone offscreen that this is a productive step in her work.
An illustration by David Revoy of the metaphor. The character Pepper is depicted literally shaving a yak.


Coined by Carlin Vieri in his time at the MIT AI Lab (1993–1998)[1] after viewing[2] a segment at the end of a 1991 episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show.[3] The segment featured “Yak Shaving Day,” a Christmas-like Holiday where participants hang diapers instead of stockings, stuff rubber boots with coleslaw, and watch for the shaven yak to float by in his enchanted canoe.


yak shaving (uncountable)

  1. Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing one to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows one to solve a larger problem.
    I was doing a bit of yak shaving this morning, and it looks like it might have paid off.
  2. A less useful activity done consciously or subconsciously to 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Jeremy (2000-02-11), “Yak Shaving”, in (please provide the title of the work)[1], MIT, archived from the original on 2021-01-12
  2. ^ Vieri, Carlin (2008-06-05), “Talk:yak shaving”, in (please provide the title of the work)[2] comment from Vieri.
  3. ^ “The Boy Who Cried Rat!”, in The Ren & Stimpy Show, season 1, episode 3b/6, written by Vincent Waller; John K., 8 September 1991