It’s a really weird experience when you suddenly stop and think about an analogy that you use all the time, and realize that it’s kind of no good. This happened to me the other day. I was training someone on our system at work, and I told him “If you ever want to find your way out of something, use the breadcrumb navigation area,” and he responded with “the what?” I said “the breadcrumb.” He said “Why on earth is it called bread crumb?” So I started to explain it, and watched the analogy sort of fall apart. “Bread crumbs, like in Hansel and Gretel?” “I don’t know the story,” he said, and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor before I could continue. “Hansel and Gretel laid down bread crumbs so they could find their way back home,” I explained, “but then…the birds ate them…uh-oh.”
This made me wonder why we had settled on that analogy and why it stuck. Of course we all know the story, or most of us do, and that’s why the analogy is memorable, but it’s the same reason it shouldn’t work. We all know that breadcrumbs ended up being a really crappy navigational aid and they didn’t get Hansel and Gretel back home at all. Breadcrumbs actually got them lost, and nearly killed!
When you think about it, why don’t we call it a pebble trail? That method worked, but stepmommy dearest took them out deeper in the woods and didn’t let them pick up more stones the second time, which is why they tried breadcrumbs.
Before I wrote this post, I wanted to make sure that origins of calling a navigational path a breadcrumb trail did come from that story, and I wasn’t about to write a giant post making me look like the biggest dope on the planet. Yes, in fact, that is where it came from. I also learned that I actually have a good idea or two, because the article said that some people call it “Ariadne’s thread” which is what I kind of said to the person I was training. I said that maybe a better name is Ariadne’s ball of yarn because that’s what helped Theseus get out of the labyrinth and not get eaten by the Minotaur. I think that sort of helped. Thank goodness he knew what I was talking about, otherwise he might have asked “So you’re saying the web is full of man-eating beasts?” Well…depending on where you go, maybe it is…oh no, there goes another analogy…