“Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts” Meaning & Origin (8 Examples)

Have you ever read a newspaper and seen that a company has just had its stock price plummet after it died due to “death by a thousand paper cuts”? Today, we’ll look at what that phrase means, where it comes from, and also use examples to help make it clearer.

Prepare for a history AND English lesson in one.

What Is The Meaning And Origin Of “Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts”?

“Death by a thousand paper cuts” is when a company, government, or other administrative body goes bankrupt or closes due to minor administrative or legal actions that culminate into its demise. It comes from the phrase “death by a thousand cuts” meaning to suffer slowly over time.

What Is The Meaning And Origin Of "Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts"?

In your day-to-day life, you may very well have heard the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”. This phrase comes from an ancient Chinese torture method called “Lingchi”.

When someone tells you they have suffered from “death by a thousand cuts”, what they mean is that nobody has done anything major to hurt them, however, all the small actions that someone (or some people) have done to them are added up, and they are suffering because of it.

For example, if a wife tells her husband that he should work out more, flirts with other men, and doesn’t let him do masculine tasks, you could say that his masculinity was killed by a thousand cuts.

If a woman keeps on dating men who lie, cheat, and steal, she will likely struggle to trust in the future. Her heart has been killed by a thousand cuts.

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What Does “Paper Cuts” Mean In Bureaucratic Slang?

The term “paper cuts” is a bureaucratic pun.

Often, when companies are killed by a collection of small lawsuits, it’s done via papers. This is called a “paper cut”, in reference to what happens if you don’t handle paper with care.

“Death by a thousand paper cuts” is incorporating the “paper cut” pun into the “death by a thousand cuts” idiom.

8 Examples Of “Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts”

  1. “Everyone at the company worked hard for years. But the competition had some very powerful lawyers working for them, in the end they died a death by a thousand paper cuts”

  2. “Amazon is one of the most evil companies there is. They don’t kill people with guns. They use their large share of the online market, and insanely competitive prices to kill anyone who dares compete with them. In the end, many companies have died a death by a thousand paper cuts by Amazon”

  3. “It was a good school. But with all this new modernisation and safety checking, they had to close down. The school died of death by a thousand paper cuts”

  4. “People have lots of theories as to why the Roman empire fell. Some say it was because of moral weakness, others that it was due to the economy. But with so many new places under their control, their death by a thousand paper cuts was inevitable”

  5. “We call these kinds of mistakes ‘paper cuts’ in this industry. We all make them. But I’d advise you to be careful. Plenty of companies just like this one have fallen over as a result of death by a thousand paper cuts”

  6. “There were plans to get us onto Mars by 2022. But those dreams died a death by a thousand paper cuts. Now, we’ll just have to make-do with the moon”

  7. “Coca-Cola used to be one of the biggest companies in the world. But with their lack of respect for the planet, poor marketing, and more health conscious society, they were close to having a death by a thousand paper cuts”

  8. “The Olympics underpays athletes, ruins cities, and never files their taxes. It’s a matter of time before they die a death of a thousand paper cuts”.

About Lingchi – The Origin Of “Death By A Thousand Cuts”

As we mentioned earlier, the phrase “Death by a thousand cuts” comes from an Ancient Chinese torture method called “Lingchi”. If you don’t mind a bit of gore, here’s how that worked….

The accused criminal would be tied to a wooden post. And they would be stripped naked. Someone with a knife would then come along and cut their skin. And then again. And then again. Depending on your crime, and your cutter, your cuts might be deep, or small. The goal was to see just how many cuts your body could withstand before you died. Sometimes it took hours. Sometimes weeks.

Once you were dead, you were cut up and put into a basket. This was to punish you in your next life.

How To Kill A Company By A Thousand Paper Cuts

Some of you may be wondering how you can give a company a death by 1000 paper cuts. And to be honest, you’re gonna need a team of skilled lawyers to help you.

All you need to do is have your lawyers watch everything they do like a hawk. From new products, filing reports, websites, employee records, everything.

As soon as they do something even slightly wrong, get your lawyers on it.

It might also help to make them have to fill out as many forms as possible.

Other Ways Of Phrasing “Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts”

Here are some alternative ways of saying “death by a thousand paper cuts”…

  • The bank ended up being Bankrupted by Bureaucracy
  • The local bakery had to close because it drowned in paperwork
  • I suppose you could say they were killed slowly by the lawyers
  • The book store was assassinated by admin
  • The Prime Minister resigned by the lawsuits built up


And there we have everything that you could want to know about the phrase “Death by a thousand paper cuts”.

In English, the common idiom “Death by a thousand cuts” means to be destroyed slowly, it comes from a torture method used in Ancient China.

And in some circles a “paper cut” is not just a result of picking up a document too quickly- it’s also a minor lawsuit.

The two phrases have been merged to create “Death by a thousand paper cuts”, meaning to be destroyed as a result of many lawsuits or administrative challenges.

Next time a newsreader says that a company has gone under, or a government has failed, due to “death by a thousand paper cuts”, you’ll now know what they’re talking about.