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 That’s largely the product of a lengthy application process requiring chipmakers to wade through months of red tape in order to secure funds. Dylan Sloan, Fortune, 9 Feb. 2024 Patzer pushed for 15 years to jump-start the data collection process but said she was stymied by red tape. Ben Tanen, Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2024 The entertainment company had hoped to begin hosting events on the gigantic vessel this spring but has been overcome by red tape. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 6 Feb. 2024 For two friends on Opportunity Street whose homes were taken — Casper and Nicole Stuart — cherished belongings were suddenly ensnared in a thicket of red tape. Ariane Lange, Sacramento Bee, 2 Feb. 2024 Some buyers viewed the state permits as bureaucratic red tape, which was an obstacle to them acquiring handguns, Hyatt said. Gavin Off, Charlotte Observer, 6 Feb. 2024 After a series of false starts and music industry red tape, she was forced to support herself by penning hits for Chloe x Halle, Chris Brown, Jhene Aiko, Fifth Harmony, Brandy, and, most famously, Ariana Grande. Evan Nicole Brown, Vulture, 4 Feb. 2024 While we’ve been focused on geopolitical competitors, the immediate enemy has always been our own red tape. Alina Clough, National Review, 1 Feb. 2024 Cannabis stocks are down; black markets remain robust, even as regulatory blunders and red tape continue to hamstring would-be legal operators; high taxes and a lack of viable banking keep margins thin. Ezra Marcus, New York Times, 30 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'red tape.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1736, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of red tape was in 1736

Dictionary Entries Near red tape

Cite this Entry

“Red tape.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

red tape

: rules and regulations that waste people's time

More from Merriam-Webster on red tape

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