bureaucracy

noun
bu·​reau·​cra·​cy | \ byu̇-ˈrä-krə-sē How to pronounce bureaucracy (audio) , byə-, byər-ˈä- \
plural bureaucracies

Definition of bureaucracy

1a : a body of nonelected 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 There is a pervasive culture of negligence, petty corruption and blame-shifting endemic to the Lebanese bureaucracy, all overseen by a political class defined by its incompetence and contempt for the public good. Faysal Itani, Star Tribune, "Lebanon's mushroom cloud of incompetence," 5 Aug. 2020 Humans wanted things like wholeness, community, or salvation; but our efforts, systematized in ways our feeble consciousness can’t ever fully grasp, end up ushering in anomie, bureaucracy, or profit. George Blaustein, The New Republic, "Searching for Consolation in Max Weber’s Work Ethic," 2 July 2020 Curiously, the bloated county bureaucracy remains virtually intact, which should always be the first to suffer reductions. Fox News, "Los Angeles proposes slashing law enforcement budget, including elimination of Special Victims Bureau," 29 June 2020 Curiously, the bloated county bureaucracy remains virtually intact, which should always be the first to suffer reductions. Madison Dibble, Washington Examiner, "Los Angeles County proposes $145M cut to sheriff's office that would eliminate special victims unit," 29 June 2020 While developers say Wong is an indispensable figure in navigating a city bureaucracy, some community activists, city officials and residents have criticized him as being emblematic of improper influence in City Hall. Megan Cassidy, SFChronicle.com, "SF permit consultant Walter Wong charged with fraud, agrees to cooperate with Justice Department," 24 June 2020 But others say that law enforcement will become less efficient if officers and supervisors must answer to the bureaucracy of civilian boards. Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press, "Ferndale City Council seeks civilian board to oversee police in 'antiracism' plan," 13 July 2020 San Francisco is becoming bikeable and walkable by necessity, adapting and improvising at incredible speeds — with bureaucracy no longer an insurmountable roadblock to change. Kellie Hwang, SFChronicle.com, "Bay Briefing: Why a vaccine alone won’t stop coronavirus," 13 July 2020 Both tribal citizens and museum professionals stressed that that the NAGPRA process means far more to Indigenous peoples than just bureaucracy. Debra Utacia Krol, The Arizona Republic, "Tribes' human remains and cultural items have been scattered across the U.S. Here's how they get returned," 27 June 2020

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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Time Traveler for bureaucracy

Time Traveler

The first known use of bureaucracy was in 1815

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Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

11 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Bureaucracy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bureaucracy. Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for bureaucracy

bureaucracy

noun
How to pronounce bureaucracy (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of bureaucracy

: a large group of people who are involved in running a government but who are not elected
often disapproving : a system of government or business that has many complicated rules and ways of doing things

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