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.


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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



  1. ^ Brown, Jeremy (2000 February 11) “Yak Shaving”, in (Please provide the book title or journal name)[1], MIT, archived from the original on 2021-01-12
  2. ^ Vieri, Carlin (2008 June 5) “Talk:yak shaving”, in (Please provide the book title or journal name)[2] comment from Vieri.
  3. ^ Vincent Waller, John K. (1991 September 8) “The Boy Who Cried Rat!”, in The Ren & Stimpy Show, season 1, episode 3b/6