Beat Bureaucracy

Origins of "bureaucracy" and "red tape"

Definition of "bureaucracy"
  An organization made up of many departments and levels of management.

Origin of the word  In French “bureau” means desk. In English the word “bureau” came to mean an office — a collection of desks. The suffix “-cracy” means “rule.” Bureaucracy literally means “rule by offices,” or rule by the people who run the offices. Governments and large private companies are bureaucracies.

Negative use of the word  Writers often use "bureaucracy" to refer to organizations that don't care about their clients, behave in a tyrannical way, and waste time and money. In democracies government bureaucrats are sometimes characterized as unelected officials who run government contrary to the wishes of the elected representatives of the people.

First use of the word  The word “bureaucratie” was first used in French in the mid-1700s. In 1818 Lady Sydney Morgan, an Irish novelist, wrote about “the Bureaucratie, or office tyranny, by which Ireland has so long been governed.” Within 20 years the French word became “bureaucracy” in English.

"Red tape"
  For centuries British government officials used red tape to secure official documents. "Red tape" came to mean rigid rules and regulations. The term first appeared in writing in the early 1700s.


Word histories from the Oxford English Dictionary