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Nice post.

Whenever I run into a fresh technical problem, I often think of this:

"Why does Grandma remove the chicken's legs when she makes soup?"

Aunt Dorothy: "It's easier to cut the chicken when it's cold that when it's hot."

Uncle Bob: "Greater surface area better infuses the broth with fat."

Aunt Sue: "To allow the dark meat and white meat develop flavor on their own."

Aunt Jean: "Smaller pieces allow the chicken to cook faster and more thorougly."

Grandma: "So that it fits in the pot."

There's an even more effective version of this story that ends with grandma saying something like "back when I was a girl, we couldn't afford a big enough pot."

Yes, I believe the intended lesson of the story isn't about simple solutions or explanations, but about how the reasons for doing things in certain ways are forgotten or misconstrued as they are handed down through generations or across organizational boundaries. The mother tells her daughter they cut the legs off because it cooks more evenly; the grandmother says it's because it makes for a better flavor; the great-grandmother says it's because she couldn't afford a big enough pot.

In the version I've come across, it's "I don't know; that's just how my Grandma did it."

Perhaps the word you are thinking of is apocryphal. But I do like what the spelling apocraphyl implies--it sounds like some kind of plant compound. May I borrow this spelling?

This should be the name of the pigment that imbues those cheap bunches of flowers at the local deli with their artificially bright neon petals.

I too rather like this, but more for the reason that it emphasizes the "crap" that apocryphal stories oftentimes turn out to be :)

I just registered apocryph.al last week. I think it'd make a great blog URL.

What? Next you'll be telling me that nobody's grandma ever actually sucked eggs either!

A pg essay repeats a similar story about onions in the varnish. http://www.paulgraham.com/arcll1.html

"In The Periodic Table, Primo Levi tells a story that happened when he was working in a varnish factory. He was a chemist, and he was fascinated by the fact that the varnish recipe included a raw onion. What could it be for? No one knew; it was just part of the recipe. So he investigated, and eventually discovered that they had started throwing the onion in years ago to test the temperature of the varnish: if it was hot enough, the onion would fry."

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