bureaucracy

noun
bu·​reau·​cra·​cy | \byu̇-ˈrä-krə-sē, 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

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

New York seems to have taken a step in the right direction by giving people the option to pay immediately and free their wheels—a speediness that's all too rare in bureaucracy. Steve Rousseau, Popular Mechanics, "Can the Parking Boot Be Beat?," 6 June 2013 Often individual employees at large technology companies have good product ideas but struggle to convince their company bureaucracies to implement them effectively. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Massachusetts gives workers new protections against noncompete clauses," 21 Aug. 2018 For decades, the company had been known for its pass-the-buck bureaucracy. Rick Tetzeli, Fortune, "GM Gets Ready for a Post-Car Future," 23 May 2018 Its vast bureaucracies were disassembled, its armies were for the most part demobilized, and its profusion of factories were promptly converted to civilian use. Maya Dukmasova, Chicago Reader, "Archive Dive / History / News On winning wars and losing memories," 18 Apr. 2018 Moving its headquarters to Chania, Crete, would give NATO officers a perch at the crossroads of three continents and offer its bureaucracy a better chance to monitor transcontinental crises. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "Rethinking the Geography of Power," 1 Feb. 2018 The President claims to have a special understanding of such hardship, but Commerce’s trade bureaucracy isn’t known for empathy. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "The Anti-Manufacturing Tariff," 11 Nov. 2018 Critics worry that China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party, could exploit those valuable rights for political leverage. Erika Kinetz, The Seattle Times, "China grants 18 trademarks in 2 months to Trump, daughter," 7 Nov. 2018 In Europe, the government makes things happen by setting up bureaucracies and preservation tools. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "Rethinking the modern house museum," 12 Oct. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about bureaucracy

Share bureaucracy

Dictionary Entries near bureaucracy

burds

bure

bureau

bureaucracy

bureaucrat

bureaucratese

bureaucratic

Statistics for bureaucracy

Last Updated

14 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for bureaucracy

The first known use of bureaucracy was in 1815

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

: a system of government or business that has many complicated rules and ways of doing things

Keep scrolling for more

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

What made you want to look up bureaucracy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

to make faulty or ineffective

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!