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 In effect, the challenge of working virtually is just one more area where the principles of bureaucracy can’t cope. Steve Denning, Forbes, 23 June 2021 For some businesses, the result is a costly thicket of bureaucracy. Jason Douglas, WSJ, 9 June 2021 Long-standing challenges largely ignored during the Trump era are further complicating the attempt to rebuild the federal government, according to veterans of the bureaucracy. BostonGlobe.com, 21 May 2021 As the city’s comptroller, Mr. Stringer had spent the past seven years rooting around in the mess of bureaucracy, issuing audit after audit, finding waste here and inefficiency there. Ginia Bellafante, New York Times, 13 May 2021 As Biden nears the 100-day milestone, his plans for American restoration and improvement — of health, economic opportunity and democracy itself — rely on injecting the steroid of cash through the veins of the bureaucracy and to the public. NBC news, 26 Apr. 2021 That maze of bureaucracy served to distance Washington lawmakers from the individuals affected by them. Los Angeles Times, 18 Apr. 2021 The position of chief public-health officer of Canada, also a Naylor-report recommendation, lost much of its power in a maze of bureaucracy. Tracey Lindeman, The Atlantic, 6 Apr. 2021 Wisecarver, a master in the language of bureaucracy, talked his subordinates through their paper chase with a practiced enthusiasm. Elliot Ackerman, Wired, 2 Mar. 2021

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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Learn More About bureaucracy

Time Traveler for bureaucracy

Time Traveler

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

19 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Bureaucracy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bureaucracy. Accessed 28 Jul. 2021.

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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

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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