Try Our Apps


Avoid these words. Seriously.

red tape

excessive formality and routine required before official action can be taken.
Origin of red tape
First recorded in 1730-40; after the red tape used to tie official documents
Related forms
redtapism, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
Cite This Source
Examples from the Web for red tape
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • "It seems to me we're going through a lot of red tape," she said spitefully.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • They think to shave my locks; show me to the people bound by their red tape.

    All Roads Lead to Calvary Jerome K. Jerome
  • He tried it, and now he scratched the apparent size of the star into the red tape.

    The Worshippers Damon Francis Knight
  • I've been meaning to see you, so I volunteered to run out some red tape for your captain.

    Police Your Planet Lester del Rey
  • We have already unraveled yards of red tape, and still there is no end.

British Dictionary definitions for red tape

red tape

obstructive official routine or procedure; time-consuming bureaucracy
Word Origin
C18: from the red tape used to bind official government documents
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
Cite This Source
Word Origin and History for red tape

"excessive bureaucratic rigmarole," 1736, in reference to the red tape formerly used in Great Britain (and the American colonies) for binding up legal and other official documents, mentioned from 1690s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source
red tape in Culture

red tape definition

Bureaucratic procedures that delay progress: “Paula had hoped to settle the inheritance quickly but got caught up in a lot of red tape.”

red tape definition

Administrative procedures, especially in a bureaucracy, that are marked by complexity and delay: “Red tape delayed his passport.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Cite This Source
Slang definitions & phrases for red tape

red tape

noun phrase

Delay and complication; ureaucrati routine; petty officious procedure

[1736+; fr the tape used for tying up legal and official documents]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
Cite This Source
Idioms and Phrases with red tape

red tape

Official forms and procedures, especially those that are complex and time-consuming. For example, There's so much red tape involved in approving our remodeling that we're tempted to postpone it indefinitely. This expression alludes to the former British custom of tying up official documents with red ribbon. [ Early 1800s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Cite This Source

Word of the Day

Nearby words for red tape

Difficulty index for red tape

Few English speakers likely know this word

Word Value for red

Scrabble Words With Friends