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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web But the bigger obstacle is bureaucracy, Kunkel said. Tim Mcdonnell, Quartz, 20 Sep. 2022 The city needs to stop copying other cities in California and start cutting costs where there is bureaucracy and waste, and reduce regulations to let the business community and residents thrive. Jennifer Van Grove, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 Aug. 2022 There is too much bureaucracy involved in getting homeless housing and not enough units. Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2022 For Documenta, which, after all, is a relatively orthodox German bureaucracy, ruangrupa’s tactics weren’t always easy to absorb. New York Times, 9 June 2022 Less government is better than creating a new layer of bureaucracy that surrounds charter schools. Renata Cló, The Arizona Republic, 14 Sep. 2022 Concerns expressed Monday by more than a dozen citizens who spoke at the meeting ranged from the lack of public accountability for the city manager to a new level of bureaucracy to protecting the elite status of Madison City Schools. Paul Gattis | Pgattis@al.com, al, 13 Sep. 2022 People attempting to exercise their right to shelter face a maze of bureaucracy and potentially dangerous living conditions. Eric Lach, The New Yorker, 28 Aug. 2022 Mounting bureaucracy is one of the best ways to ensure people stay put. Alex Ledsom, Forbes, 11 Aug. 2022 See More

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.

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

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The first known use of bureaucracy was in 1815

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Dictionary Entries Near bureaucracy

bureau

bureaucracy

bureaucrat

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Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

29 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Bureaucracy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bureaucracy. Accessed 2 Oct. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on bureaucracy

Nglish: Translation of bureaucracy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of bureaucracy for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about bureaucracy

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