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.

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

Contemporary Examples of bureaucracy

Historical Examples of bureaucracy

  • It is but fair to say that venality is not one of the characteristics of the German bureaucracy.

    England and Germany

    Emile Joseph Dillon

  • You are from that hour regarded as one of the younger children of Bureaucracy.

    A Day's Ride

    Charles James Lever

  • When this is understood, the nightmare of the bureaucracy of Socialism vanishes.


    John Spargo

  • Even if the bureaucracy were omniscient, such a condition of life would be intolerable.


    John Spargo

  • To live under a bureaucracy and not to see that it was funny!


    George A. Birmingham

British Dictionary definitions for bureaucracy


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

bureaucracy in Culture



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.