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

There’s no bureaucracy just Brilliant ideas turned into reality in a matter of days. Christopher Carbone, Fox News, "Thai cave rescue: Elon Musk's kid-sized submarine prompts jeers, praise," 10 July 2018 And bureaucracy helps bolster the efficacy of upstart laws by building a bulwark to protect their arbitrariness. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Driving Without a Smartphone," 10 July 2018 After decades of relying on the New Deal/Great Society playbook rather than working to craft a plan better suited to a changing economy, Democrats had developed a reputation for being reflexively antibusiness and pro-bureaucracy. Neil Swidey, BostonGlobe.com, "How Democrats would be better off if Bill Clinton had never been president," 10 July 2018 But mistakes can happen when military bureaucracies get into spats about who gets to do what. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "5 Space Forces From Sci-Fi and What We Can Learn From Them," 6 July 2018 The goal then was to get geeks from Silicon Valley to take tours of duty in Washington, cut through the morass of military bureaucracy, and build technology that’s actually user-friendly and doesn’t take years to produce. Issie Lapowsky, WIRED, "The Pentagon Is Building a Dream Team of Tech-Savvy Soldiers," 2 July 2018 Any expert on bureaucracy will tell you that governmental institutions are very resistant to being eliminated. Julia Azari, Vox, "How “abolish ICE” illustrates the importance of party politics," 2 July 2018 Then, unscrupulous legislators, led by Lake County’s state former senator and now Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays, hijacked the money to feed bloated state bureaucracy, pay off state debt and keep the corporate welfare flowing. Lauren Ritchie, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Environment, voters score big win over contemptuous legislators," 29 June 2018 Tracking the movements of every person at all times in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would have required feats of manpower and bureaucracy beyond all but the most despotic regimes’ dreams. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "The Supreme Court Cares About Your Digital Privacy," 22 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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bureau

bureaucracy

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bureaucratese

bureaucratic

Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

2 Nov 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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