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Has anyone heard this expression? If so, what does it mean? I use it to mean that one person should speak at a time, but there is no material whatsoever on the internet. I was trying to find its origin too.

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  • Welcome to EL&U. Please provide the context where you found this expression. – choster Apr 7 '14 at 18:11
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    This wasn't by any chance a warning you saw backstage at a Tijuana bar was it? – Digital Chris Apr 7 '14 at 18:19
  • @DigitalChris - man that sign could be taken more than a few ways. – RyeɃreḁd Apr 7 '14 at 19:22
  • @Rye So can the donkey … – David M Apr 8 '14 at 12:31
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I hear this phrase every once in a while and in the context I hear it is usually used towards a group of men that are talking over each other.

It is a way to playfully (or sarcastically) call them out for acting like jackasses. So saying one donkey at a time would be telling them to speak one at a time.

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    You must move in some very strange circles! I couldn't find a single example of this usage in the first few pages of Google results for "one donkey at a time", and there are no results at all if I append "please" to the quoted search string, so I think it must be very localised. – FumbleFingers Apr 7 '14 at 18:57
  • @FumbleFingers I had an operations boss that used to use phrase all the time with our group of developers - all clowns in their 20s at the time. I wouldn't say it is common but I hear it a few times a year. What is funny is that the phrase seems demeaning but it is never really taken like that. – RyeɃreḁd Apr 7 '14 at 19:14
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    one jackass at a time 1880 – Mari-Lou A Apr 7 '14 at 23:22
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    one ass at a time 1850, I found two examples thanks to your suggestion. – Mari-Lou A Apr 7 '14 at 23:26
  • @Mari-LouA - thanks for the text backing. I find the phrase common knowledge (midwest). I am very very surprised that it isn't found in print more... maybe because it is more of a speech phrase. – RyeɃreḁd Apr 8 '14 at 1:55
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OP's specific expression has no significant currency as such, but it's just one more variation on...

"Saving the XXX one YYY at a time" (i.e. - we'll get where we want to end up if we do it bit by bit)

...where XXX = world, planet, rainforest, etc. and YYY = baby, whale, tree, etc. as appropriate. Retired donkeys often need "saving", and Brits in particular support "donkey sanctuaries" around the world. There are also numerous closely-related donkey = ass "figurative" usages...

Change the world for the better by reducing the number of asses braying and stinking up the place. There is one particular ass you can get started with — right now. YOU! This practical guide blends sarcasm with wisdom to show you how you can Change the world — One ass at a time.

Here's another example that "bends" the usage a bit further with "Shaping the world one woman at a time" (since they sell "figure-control" underwear, they could have used "ass" there! :).

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