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Context: Talking about a product or a project. During a meeting someone used the expression "Death by a thousand paper cuts".

I understand the concept of the original version Death by a thousand cuts that in this case would translate to something that suffered so many micro or mini criticism that it eventually got canceled or finished.

My first take on the paper cut version is that it has the same meaning with a more "light/comic" version to remove the dark+torture effect from the expression.

Does it make sense? Or does it mean something entirely different?

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    It sounds like the derailment of the project due to many minor problems. Whether it is a light-hearted comment depends on the intent of the speaker. – Lawrence May 19 '16 at 14:20
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    I think you've got it right. Unfortunately, any answer to your question will be speculative, unless someone can trace its first use. – Mark Hubbard May 19 '16 at 14:25
  • Sounds like either an accidental verbal substitution; or deliberate editorializing about bureaucracy, paperwork, documentation, requests for information, or similar paper artifacts as the problem with the project. – user662852 May 19 '16 at 14:46
  • @prof-yaffle got it right! There were an outrageous amount of documents that needed to be created + another uncountable amount of approvals... it took a lifetime to get it all and in the end the project was doomed because the requester was not interested in it anymore. – vianna77 May 19 '16 at 16:36
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The literal death by a thousand cuts was an execution method in which the victim was slowly dismembered (Wikipedia), and has come more popularly to mean anything that is a slow process in which a multitude of small, bad things happen which ultimately culminate in the demise of whatever was suffering the changes (UE).

The paper cuts form is a bureaucratic pun, therefore. It's used in the sense of minor administrative or legal actions which ultimately aggregate to weigh down or destroy a system. Since the actions are paper-based, they can be termed paper cuts.

Examples include:

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It means the same thing.

A paper cut can be extremely painful, even though it's very small.

In the context of a project, it means failure due to many small problems instead of one large problem. This is exactly what it would mean without the "paper" part.

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It means working in an office job (think of Dilbert) and slowly letting your employer suck the life out of you, until you are nothing but a hollow shell of the person you used to be, usually near suicidal or completely numb.

Can be associated with any meaningless (in the sense of what gives your life meaning) office job such as accountant, lawyer, engineer, clerk, programmer, etc.

This would be in contrast to any job that may actually give job satisfaction by letting you create something, such as any construction job, doctor, artist, etc. Typically any job where you do not live in a cubical for 9 hours a day.

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