21

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?

  • My initial reaction is putting things in perspective or you don't know how good you had it until it's gone. There's a bit of a double entendre here with the goat. – Richard Kayser Sep 10 '16 at 18:36
  • Related: get someone's goat: to irritate someone; to annoy and arouse someone to anger. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/get+goat – NVZ Sep 10 '16 at 18:37
  • 1
    As the other answers make clear, there is no corresponding idiom in English. – TonyK Sep 10 '16 at 22:12
  • 'In hindsight' may be a possible phrase that can be used. – Harsha Sep 11 '16 at 10:57
5

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.

5

Is there a similar saying or tale in American English?

I don't know of an equivalent for the short form, but since you also ask for a similar tale, perhaps the old joke:

Q: Why do you keep banging your head against that wall/hitting yourself with a hammer/whipping yourself etc.?

A: Because it feels so good when I stop.

I'm not sure of the origin of the joke, but it's well-known enough that the second line can be used stand-alone, as with this book title, the title of this blog post about petty online registration frustrations, this chapter from the book Bodybuilding Motivation, etc.

However, for full effect you might need the full story, which also pops up in such widely divergent places as a New York Times Op Ed piece, a column with advice for pastors, a motivational blog, and a popular Grey's Anatomy quote.


Note that an abbreviated version, quit banging your head against the wall, is idiomatic with a slightly different meaning, more like "what you're doing is futile, so stop wasting your time." See Dictionary.com.

  • Good phrase, but I don’t think the last line will generally be understood in a stand-alone context. The articles you link all include a version of the full story, not just the last line. The book title is the only example where the last line is use alone — but it’s very common for book titles to be something memorable but not fully self-explanatory, with the explanation appearing in the book itself. – PLL Sep 11 '16 at 10:52
  • @PLL see my edits for more examples. However, I didn't mean to imply the second line in and of itself was exactly identical to the OP's short form; since the request was for a similar saying or tale I thought the joke as a whole would fit. – 1006a Sep 11 '16 at 14:13
3

The town elder is helping Danny to put things in perspective, to understand that matters can always be worse. He is also teaching Danny that you don't know how good you have it until it's gone, i.e., to learn to appreciate what you have, to focus on the positive.

There's a bit of a double entendre in you don't know how good you had it until it's gone. First, Danny quickly understood that the initial arrangement he had was far preferable to that with the goat -- try living with a goat! Second, Danny appreciated that fact doubly when the goat was gone.

  • 1
    +1. Don't sweat the small stuff. It could be much worse with a goat added to the mix. – Drew Sep 10 '16 at 19:35
  • @Drew Hilarious. Nothing like a goat to help one distinguish the small stuff from the large stuff. It so happens that my family has an affinity for pygmy goats and would like to have one. We talked about whether it would live inside or outside. :-) Either way, at the end of the day, both inside and outside as we know them would cease to exist. – Richard Kayser Sep 10 '16 at 20:00
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    Nothing like a goat to turn inside out and outside in - pygmies or not. – Drew Sep 11 '16 at 3:53
2

Not a perfect fit, but close.

Suppose Danny is stressed out because of the 5 other people living in the small house, and he goes to the town elder seeking advice, and the response from the town elder could be:

(It) could be worseMacmillan

Used for saying that a situation is better than it might have been, although it is still bad.
"Could be worse. At least you didn’t lose any money."

Look on the bright sideCambridge

To find good things in a bad situation.
"Look on the bright side - no one was badly hurt"

  • "'Could be worse. Could be raining.' [Thunder rolls.]" – Doug Warren Sep 12 '16 at 17:00
1

Simplify life.

or

Let's simplify life.

This means to get rid of various unnecessary layers of complication, and go easy on yourself.

For example, say you have a draft of a book or a long article. There's one chapter or section that's a mess. You ask your mentor for help in restructuring it and solving various inherent problems. Your mentor looks it all over carefully and then says, "You know what, Joey? Your article doesn't really need this section. You're a week behind deadline and your wife will be going into labor any day now. Why don't you simplify life and just take this whole section out? But hold onto the draft for this section. You can always rework it later and incorporate it into a future article."

1

Is there a similar saying or tale in American English?

Not American in this case, but British author Julia Donaldson tells a very similar version of the tale in her childrens' book called 'A Squash and a Squeeze' - An old lady feels that her cottage is too small and goes to a wise old man for advice - he tells her to take in her animals one by one until all of her animals end up living with her in her house. Finally, he tells her to take all the animals out again, and she realises that her house is not so small after all.

http://www.picturebookplays.co.uk/books/a-squash-and-a-squeeze/

0

Count your blessings!

Cambridge Dictionary:

count your blessings

to be grateful for the good things in your life, often to stop yourself becoming too unhappy about the bad things

Macmillan dictionary:

count your blessings PHRASE

to realize that there are good things about your situation, as well as bad ones. This phrase is often used for telling someone that they should not complain.

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