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 as Coinbase grew, projects started to feel overstaffed, and the decision-making process slowed amid layers of bureaucracy, according to five people familiar with the company. New York Times, 5 Aug. 2022 And the paperwork, and all of the bureaucracy to make that happen is very cumbersome, takes a few hours of your time. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, 31 July 2022 Compared to the glacial pace of bureaucracy, life on the Lanzit property is in constant flux. Los Angeles Times, 19 July 2022 As compared to the grind of bureaucracy in the industrial era, the new management practices— encouraging the love of customers and the use of self-organizing teams—were a nice surprise. Steve Denning, Forbes, 27 June 2022 Letitia Wright plays a young Nigerian woman seeking asylum in Ireland who’s caught in a web of bureaucracy. Lisa Wong Macabasco, Vogue, 8 June 2022 During the pandemic, many of the Native writers had tried to acquire our land—home site leases on our tribal lands—and had dealt with this kind of bureaucracy. Kristin Scharkey, Sunset Magazine, 30 May 2022 Negotiations bogged down under the weight of government bureaucracy and then by the coronavirus pandemic, Amineddoleh told The Post. Washington Post, 10 May 2022 It’s a bill intended to further entrench progressive pieties on diversity and equity within the federal bureaucracy. The Editors, National Review, 25 July 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

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

12 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Bureaucracy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bureaucracy. Accessed 17 Aug. 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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