Bureaucracy, red tape, paper chase, etc

We need to cut red tape!

Here are some words and expressions that we use to talk about bureaucracy and official procedures involving lots of documents.

In English this is always a negative word. It refers to long and complicated official procedures, which usually involve a lot of paperwork.

There’s too much bureaucracy involved when you apply for a licence to manage a shop. The government should simplify / streamline the process.

You can use the adjective bureaucratic to refer to situations or processes where there is a lot of bureaucracy.

A bureaucrat is a negative or pejorative word for an official who works in a government department or agency.

Brexit campaigners argue that Britain has been under the control of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

A neutral term for someone who works in a government job is civil servant.

Ranjit works as a civil servant in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Red tape is an informal term for bureaucracy.

We need to cut red tape and make it easier for companies to do business.

A paper chase is a slang term for a situation where you need to acquire lots of official documents. (You can also write paper chase as one word.)

Trying to import a horse into this country involves a massive paper chase. You need about twenty certificates and letters from vets. It’s a nightmare!

A paper trail means the accumulated proof or evidence of financial transactions through documents such as receipts, invoices and bank statements, etc. It’s usually used in situations where an investigation or inspection is being carried out.

Auditors followed the paper trail from the company’s London offices to a network of obscure offshore holding companies based in the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

To rubber stamp a decision or policy means to agree with it or approve it without a challenge. This expression is often used in the context of countries where there is an autocratic government and a parliament or legislative body that automatically approves all decisions made by the executive.

The Supreme Assembly rubber stamped the President’s decision to declare his birthday a public holiday.

Note that rubber stamp is always figurative. If a document receives an official endorsement or mark it is just stamped:

The immigration officer stamped our passports.


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