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 The politicization of the federal bureaucracy is nothing new. Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ, 10 June 2021 Rather, the differences may flow from the realities of real estate, municipal finance, and the challenges of navigating the federal bureaucracy. BostonGlobe.com, 7 June 2021 Rather, the differences may flow from the realities of real estate, municipal finance and the challenges of navigating the federal bureaucracy. Christopher Flavelle, New York Times, 7 June 2021 For one thing, the federal health bureaucracy is almost exclusively represented in the pages of Lewis’s book by the CDC—even though the agency played no role in drafting the Bush-era pandemic strategy. Chris Lehmann, The New Republic, 11 May 2021 Wary of wasting a moment, Zients and other officials drafted a mountain of emails to launch the federal bureaucracy into action to be sent in the first minutes after their government email accounts were activated. Arkansas Online, 27 Apr. 2021 Brian O’Malley, president of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a transit advocacy group, said Quinn cut through state bureaucracy early in his tenure to get working GPS installed on all buses. Colin Campbell, baltimoresun.com, 19 May 2021 The essay stresses how Maurice Hilleman was able to cut through bureaucracy and develop a vaccine in just a few months. WSJ, 7 May 2021 Lack of internet is another barrier for getting through health care bureaucracy. Amy Yee, Scientific American, 6 May 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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Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

13 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Bureaucracy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bureaucracy. Accessed 22 Jun. 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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