bureaucracy

noun
bu·reau·cra·cy | \ byu̇-ˈrä-krə-sē , byə- , byər-ˈä- \
plural bureaucracies

Definition of bureaucracy 

1a : a body of nonelective government officials

b : an administrative policy-making group

2 : government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority

3 : a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation

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The Roots of bureaucracy

Bureaucracy was borrowed from the French bureaucratie, which itself was formed by combining bureau (“desk”) and -cratie (a suffix denoting a kind of government). The English word can refer to an entire body of unelected government officials or to the problematic system (often filled with red tape) that may result from administration by bureaucrats. From its earliest appearances, bureaucracy has carried a distinctly negative connotation. An 1815 London Times article, for example, declares: “. . . it is in this bureaucracy, Gentlemen, that you will find the invisible and mischievous power which thwarts the most noble views, and prevents or weakens the effect of all the salutary reforms which France is incessantly calling for.”

Examples of bureaucracy in a Sentence

As Europe slipped deeper into the war, the uranium panel twiddled its thumbs. It was so mired in bureaucracy that by the spring of 1940, it had managed to approve only the $6,000 in research funds earmarked for Fermi and Szilard, so they could purchase uranium and graphite for their fission experiments. —Jennet Conant, Tuxedo Park, 2002 In recent books and articles a small but outspoken chorus of former CIA case officers has portrayed the once proudly swashbuckling agency as a timid, politically correct bureaucracy, overly concerned with being held to account by the press and Capitol Hill. —Evan Thomas, Newsweek, 29 Apr. 2002 Proving that even lumbering federal bureaucracies can move quickly when they have to, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last week took advantage of Congress' extended holiday break to introduce its long-awaited—and, perhaps, long-dreaded—ergonomic standards. Editor & Publisher, 27 Nov. 1999 She was fed up with all the red tape and bureaucracy. Both candidates pledge to simplify the state's bloated bureaucracy.
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Recent Examples on the Web

But one of their goals is to help people get around and navigate through bureaucracy and figure out how to get through red tape. Recode Staff, Recode, "Full transcript: Matt Cutts of the U.S. Digital Service on Recode Decode," 12 July 2018 But Facebook’s sprawling bureaucracy and its excitement over the potential of the the Myanmar market appeared to override concerns about the proliferation of hate speech. Timothy Mclaughlin, WIRED, "How Facebook’s Rise Fueled Chaos and Confusion in Myanmar," 6 July 2018 Compounding the premier’s woes, Stephen Phipson, chief executive of the EEF manufacturing lobby group, said the UK’s industrial giants are all preparing for a no-deal Brexit that causes increased bureaucracy and border delays. BostonGlobe.com, "Rolls Royce adds to Brexit alarm sounded by UK manufacturers," 5 July 2018 Yet today actual contacts across the strait are rare, burdened by bureaucracy and costly travel. David Ramseur, Anchorage Daily News, "Forced closing of Russia’s Seattle consulate will set back U.S.-Russia relations," 26 Mar. 2018 The swamp being the bureaucracy that comes across the English Channel from Europe. Fox News, "UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on NATO, Russia and Brexit," 13 July 2018 The idea was to overcome the country’s biggest obstacle in nurturing technical prowess, the internal bureaucracy of English soccer’s 154-year-old governing body. Jonathan Clegg, WSJ, "How England Rewired Its Soccer DNA," 10 July 2018 With no basement, attic or spare room, unglamorous documents have no home and can end up stacked in plain sight in utilitarian boxes, unattractive reminders of the bureaucracy of life. New York Times, "Buried in Paperwork," 6 July 2018 Many lack proper identification and the bureaucracies that can help them qualify for help move slowly. Stacey Burling, Philly.com, "Shelters, hospitals 'playing ping pong' with Philadelphia's homeless, sick population," 28 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'bureaucracy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of bureaucracy

1815, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for bureaucracy

borrowed from French bureaucratie, from bureau bureau + -cratie -cracy

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Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

7 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for bureaucracy

The first known use of bureaucracy was in 1815

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More Definitions for bureaucracy

bureaucracy

noun

English Language Learners Definition of bureaucracy

: a large group of people who are involved in running a government but who are not elected

: a system of government or business that has many complicated rules and ways of doing things

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