red tape


Definition of red tape

: official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction bureaucratic red tape … enterprisers that show how people across the Nation are coping (or not coping) with such problems as unemployment, the budget deficit and Government red tape.— John Weisman … pompous officials (often lowly clerks) in love with red tape who delight in obstructing the expedition of what should be simple procedures.— Norman W. Schur Initial plans became irretrievably mired in the red tape of building permissions.— Bella Pollen Their plan is simple enough and none too glamorous: create a Web site to help people cut through red tape; i.e., pay for parking tickets and so on.— Sarah Kerr

Examples of red tape in a Sentence

You would not believe the red tape involved in getting the required permits.
Recent Examples on the Web Johnson, 55, would seek to cut taxes and red tape to stimulate economic growth while opening Britain's coffers to spend more on policing and health and ambitious infrastructure-development projects. Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY, "Boris Johnson vs. Jeremy Corbyn: Britain gears up for 'nightmare before Christmas' vote," 11 Dec. 2019 The goal is to reduce red tape for scientific expeditions by federal scientists or researchers working with federal funding. Warren Cornwall, Science | AAAS, "Trump plan to push seafloor mapping wins warm reception," 22 Nov. 2019 Sitting between two rivers on the state’s southwestern coast, Newtok voted to move in 1996, but governmental red tape and the project’s high cost, more than $100 million, have contributed to the delay. Jake Cline, The Atlantic, "Nature Writing That Sees Possibility in Climate Change," 22 Sep. 2019 Likewise in Egypt, Putin agreed a deal in 2014 to build a Russian free-trade zone on the Suez Canal—a project that remains on the drawing board, wrapped up in Egyptian red tape. Madeline Roache, Time, "30 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia Is Only Pretending to Be a Major Power," 9 Nov. 2019 Idaho’s changed requirements have ensnared in red tape many recipients who have no income or are self-employed. Lexi Churchill, ProPublica, "The Trump Administration Cracked Down on Medicaid. Kids Lost Insurance.," 31 Oct. 2019 The concept raises the prospect of similar agencies being founded across all 50 states, leading to a patchwork of state regulation that critics have said would be unreasonably complicated and could tie up small businesses in red tape. Brian Fung, CNN, "The unlikely activist behind the nation's toughest privacy law isn't done yet," 10 Oct. 2019 The ball was made for tennis, and is tightly wrapped in red tape to add weight. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Away from glitzy stadiums, Qatar migrants live for cricket," 5 Oct. 2019 Under Frotman, the consumer bureau in 2017 filed its lawsuit against Navient, a case that remains held up in red tape. NBC News, "Inside the Education Department's effort to 'obstruct' student loan investigations," 9 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'red tape.' 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 red tape

1736, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for red tape

from the red tape formerly used to bind legal documents in England

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The first known use of red tape was in 1736

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Statistics for red tape

Last Updated

22 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Red tape.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for red tape

red tape


English Language Learners Definition of red tape

disapproving : a series of actions or complicated tasks that seem unnecessary but that a government or organization requires you to do in order to get or do something

red tape


Kids Definition of red tape

: rules and regulations that seem unnecessary and prevent things from being done quickly and easily governmental red tape

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with red tape

Spanish Central: Translation of red tape

Nglish: Translation of red tape for Spanish Speakers

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