2

Does it mean that you are using X to save the world, or that you are saving the world by eliminating one X at a time?

8

Neither, and both.

Saving the world, one bug at a time - here the implication is that bugs will be destroyed one at a time until the world is saved.

Saving the world, one pixel at a time - this is a bit of a play on "save"; it's a photography blog, and the world is being "saved" on disk, one pixel at a time.

Save the world, one girl at a time - the salvation of the world will be the education of girls and women, which happens one girl at a time.

This is one of those memorable yet malleable catchphrases - "Zen and the art of X" is another - that stick in the viewer's mind, but can carry whatever message the user desires.

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    Excellent examples! And "catchphrase" is the best descriptor. – FumbleFingers Aug 9 '13 at 2:47
2

It is a mildly sarcastic (and often self-deprecating) statement. The person is not literally saving the world, but they are doing good. The individual gesture, the one X at a time, moves all of us one step closer to a good, safe, just condition.

The concept is similar to that suggested by Gandhi

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

  • 1
    It is sarcastic? For me, it is the other way round, an answer to people being sarcastic. If someone is telling other people that do their best to make the world a better place, that they only do small things that have no real influence, I'd answer "No, they are saving the world, one X at a time." It is appreciation for being humble enough to do the important small steps instead of breaking down while trying to solve problems at a level that is to high. – skymningen Aug 9 '13 at 6:59
  • @skymninge It is not negatively sarcastic. Rather it is tongue-in-cheek. The speaker is not usually actually claiming that the world is or will be saved, only that he is moving in the right direction. The speaker usually does beleive it is worthwhile. – bib Aug 9 '13 at 11:34

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