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

With a directive signed Tuesday, Mr. Trump was positioning the Space Force much as the Marine Corps fits into the Navy, officials said, with the result being lower costs and less bureaucracy. Alex Leary And, WSJ, "Space Force to Be Part of Air Force at First," 19 Feb. 2019 The challenge will be to develop industry-leading self-driving technology without getting smothered by the automakers' bureaucracies. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "The hype around driverless cars came crashing down in 2018," 30 Dec. 2018 The establishment of these two organizations would rearrange the military’s current bureaucracy for handling national security space missions, which mostly revolve around launching satellites for surveillance, communications, and navigation. Loren Grush, The Verge, "Space Command is coming back, but Space Force still needs approval from Congress," 18 Dec. 2018 That prospect set off a wave of anger from those who considered Brexit a ringing declaration of independence from the bureaucracy in Brussels. Laura King, latimes.com, "British Prime Minister May's government appears in turmoil amid resignations tied to Brexit," 9 July 2018 During his five-year tenure as mayor, López Obrador eliminated hundreds of jobs from the bureaucracy. Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, "If he becomes president, this man will turn Mexico’s White House into a public park," 4 June 2018 The right philosophically believes students deserve to be freed from educational bureaucracy, just as the left philosophically opposes subjecting school administrators or teachers to any kind of competitive pressure. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Obama’s Education Legacy Has Been Forgotten. Now He Has to Save It.," 27 Feb. 2018 The speech coincided with the completion of a Pentagon report that provides a greater sense of how the space force would be structured and fit in with the existing Defense bureaucracy. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Mike Pence introduces Pentagon report calling for a space force," 9 Aug. 2018 But also fueling the fires is an overgrown government bureaucracy that frustrates proper forest management. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "California’s Paradise Lost," 12 Nov. 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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bureaucratese

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Last Updated

23 Feb 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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