• synonyms

red tape

See more synonyms for red tape on Thesaurus.com
  1. excessive formality and routine required before official action can be taken.
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Origin of red tape

First recorded in 1730–40; after the red tape used to tie official documents
Related formsred·tap·ism, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for red tape

bureaucracy, authority, government, management, officialdom, officialism

Examples from the Web for red tape

Historical Examples of red tape

  • "It really is red-tape of Miss Todd," murmured Loveday yieldingly.

    A harum-scarum schoolgirl

    Angela Brazil

  • They were only the red-tape machines of the Public Lands Department.

    Land of the Burnt Thigh

    Edith Eudora Kohl

  • Everything goes by red-tape with 'em, an' the ban'-wagon goes in front.

    The Bishop of Cottontown

    John Trotwood Moore

  • His Regiment, through some Red-tape informality, has been without tents.

  • In the army they become, occasionally, the most bigoted worshippers of red-tape.

    A Padre in France

    George A. Birmingham

British Dictionary definitions for red tape

red tape

  1. obstructive official routine or procedure; time-consuming bureaucracy
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Word Origin for red tape

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

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

red tape in Culture

red tape

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

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red tape

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

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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.

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]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.