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

Still, a vast swath of the bureaucracy appears to be on the dissenting official’s side. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "In defense of the New York Times’s anonymous Trump official," 6 Sep. 2018 Business representatives worry about transport delays, supply chain disruption, and new bureaucracy. Amanda Sloat, Time, "Brexit Could Jeopardize Peace in Northern Ireland—and America Is Ignoring It," 29 June 2018 Because trade is becoming more regulated, a new surveillance bureaucracy is sprouting. The Economist, "Why corporate America loves Donald Trump," 24 May 2018 The party leadership selects the LDP’s electoral candidates and makes appointments within the bureaucracy. The Economist, "The cabals Japan’s prime minister has tried to curb may curb him," 19 Apr. 2018 Towns across the country that want to promote development and generally make life better for businesses and homeowners have long battled the enemy within – bureaucracy. Michaelle Bond, Philly.com, "What municipalities can learn from the nationwide solar push," 23 Feb. 2018 Yameen also consolidated power by exerting control over the courts, bureaucracy, police and the military. Fox News, "Maldives opposition: President attempting to stay in power," 28 Sep. 2018 Problems include high upfront costs, onerous bureaucracy, and restrictive regulations. Megan Rowling, The Christian Science Monitor, "Aid agencies sign onto global plan to supply clean energy to refugees," 18 May 2018 People blame bureaucracy in Italy for making the process particularly slow. Amy Kellogg, Fox News, "Central Italy battling effects of earthquakes and bureaucracy as it struggles to rebuild," 24 Aug. 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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Learn More about bureaucracy

Dictionary Entries near bureaucracy

burds

bure

bureau

bureaucracy

bureaucrat

bureaucratese

bureaucratic

Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

18 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

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

Comments on bureaucracy

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