[ byoo-rok-ruh-see ]
/ byʊˈrɒk rə si /

noun, plural bu·reauc·ra·cies.

government by many bureaus, administrators, and petty officials.
the body of officials and administrators, especially of a government or government department.
excessive multiplication of, and concentration of power in, administrative bureaus or administrators.
administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine.

Nearby words

  1. bureau of indian affairs,
  2. bureau of internal revenue,
  3. bureau of land management,
  4. bureau of mines,
  5. bureau of the census,
  6. bureaucrat,
  7. bureaucratese,
  8. bureaucratic,
  9. bureaucratize,
  10. burelage

Origin of bureaucracy

1810–20; bureau + -cracy, modeled on French bureaucratie

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for bureaucracy

British Dictionary definitions for bureaucracy


/ (bjʊəˈrɒkrəsɪ) /

noun plural -cies

a system of administration based upon organization into bureaus, division of labour, a hierarchy of authority, etc: designed to dispose of a large body of work in a routine manner
government by such a system
government or other officials collectively
any administration in which action is impeded by unnecessary official procedures and red tape
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

Word Origin and History for bureaucracy



1818, from French bureaucratie, coined by French economist Jean Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay (1712-1759) on model of democratie, aristocratie, from bureau "office," literally "desk" (see bureau) + Greek suffix -kratia denoting "power of" (see -cracy).

That vast net-work of administrative tyranny ... that system of bureaucracy, which leaves no free agent in all France, except for the man at Paris who pulls the wires. [J.S. Mill, "Westminster Review" XXVIII, 1837]

bureaucrat, &c. The formation is so barbarous that all attempt at self-respect in pronunciation may perhaps as well be abandoned. [Fowler]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Culture definitions for bureaucracy


[ (byoo-rok-ruh-see) ]

A formal, hierarchical organization with many levels in which tasks, responsibilities, and authority are delegated among individuals, offices, or departments, held together by a central administration. According to many sociologists and anthropologists, the development of bureaucratic organizations is necessary for the emergence of any modern civilization. (See Max Weber.)


Today, the term bureaucracy suggests a lack of initiative, excessive adherence to rules and routine, red tape (see also red tape), inefficiency, or, even more serious, an impersonal force dominating the lives of individuals. (See Big Brother is watching you.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.