Learn English – n English equivalent to “get rid of the goat”


Danny was living in a small house with five other people, and the stress was getting to him. He went to the town elder to ask for advice.

"Buy a goat", said the town elder, "and let it live in your apartment. If that doesn't help, come see me again in a month."

A month later, Danny came back and said "now I've got six people and a goat in my tiny apartment, and I'm more stressed than ever before!"

"Get rid of the goat", said the town elder.

And Danny was no longer stressed.

The phrase "getting rid of the goat" is quite common in Israel (להיפטר מן העז in Hebrew) to mean returning to a lower level of stress from a higher level, and thereby feeling less stressed by comparison. Is there a similar saying or tale in American English?

Best Answer

As a US-based software developer, I have heard a similar story. I'm not sure if it's well-known enough to be used as an idiom, but it at least shows the pervasiveness of that form of joke or story.

This started as a piece of Interplay [a video game publisher] corporate lore. It was well known that producers (a game industry position, roughly equivalent to PMs [project managers]) had to make a change to everything that was done. The assumption was that subconsciously they felt that if they didn't, they weren't adding value.

The artist working on the queen animations for Battle Chess was aware of this tendency, and came up with an innovative solution. He did the animations for the queen the way that he felt would be best, with one addition: he gave the queen a pet duck. He animated this duck through all of the queen's animations, had it flapping around the corners. He also took great care to make sure that it never overlapped the "actual" animation.

Eventually, it came time for the producer to review the animation set for the queen. The producer sat down and watched all of the animations. When they were done, he turned to the artist and said, "that looks great. Just one thing - get rid of the duck."

(Folk tale, as reported in a post from Coding Horror by Jeff Atwood)

So, at least for software developers, get rid of the duck is an equivalent saying.