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 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

Many employers preferred to hire undocumented workers to avoid the Bracero program’s bureaucracy and wage restrictions. Anthony W. Fontes, The Conversation, "The long, bipartisan history of dealing with immigrants harshly," 9 July 2019 Without the cocoon of NATO’s bureaucracy and procedures, everyday military tasks became harder. The Economist, "Europe alone: July 2024," 6 July 2019 The problem is the logistics, bureaucracy and intense resistance from residents that often comes with any proposal to increase homeless services in a specific neighborhood. Trisha Thadani, SFChronicle.com, "Mayor Breed promised 1,000 new shelter beds by end of 2020. Will she meet her goal?," 5 July 2019 While there has never been a female defense secretary, women have held influential positions in the Pentagon bureaucracy. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic recounts her national security journey, takes a jab at Silicon Valley," 30 June 2019 Many inhabitants feel ignored by the camp bureaucracy and can’t afford even basic supplies such as soap and shoes. Nina Strochlic, National Geographic, "In Uganda, a unique urban experiment is under way," 17 June 2019 They are also encumbered by structural issues, such as the entrenched interests of unions, bureaucracy and laws allowing voters to approve major decisions in ballot measures. The Economist, "The futureTexas seems better placed to adapt than California," 22 June 2019 Property taxes and other streams of revenue that used to be collected by local authorities are now channeled through Dodoma, adding an additional layer of bureaucracy and further distancing citizens from the planning process. Nichole Sobecki, National Geographic, "This Tanzanian city may soon be one of the world’s most populous. Is it ready?," 5 Apr. 2019 Aid distribution and medical care is often spotty—stalled by violence, bureaucracy and dwindling donor money. Raja Abdulrahim, WSJ, "Battle to Oust Islamic State Takes Toll on Syrian Civilians," 13 Feb. 2019

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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Dictionary Entries near bureaucracy

burds

bure

bureau

bureaucracy

bureaucrat

bureaucratese

bureaucratic

Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

13 Jul 2019

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on bureaucracy

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with bureaucracy

Spanish Central: Translation of 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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