• bureaucracy •
byu-rah-krê-see • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The whole of departments, offices and agencies forming any form of governance or the officials employed therein. 2. Red tape, a long, drawn-out, tedious, perhaps complicated procedure necessitated by governance.
Notes: As the size of government grew with the population of countries, the original meaning of the word acquired a pejorative connotation and, finally, denotation (see Meaning 2 above). People employed in a bureaucracy are bureaucrats, and everything they do is bureaucratic.
In Play: This word is used in its original sense in utterances like this: "Many think modern bureaucracies have grown too ponderous and would like to see them streamlined." However, this idea has led to the pejorative second sense above: "Most teachers want reduction of the burdensome bureaucracy involved with the administrative tasks they are expected to perform."
Word History: English picked this word up, as usual, from French bureaucratie, coined by the French economist Jean Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay in 1759 by analogy with words like démocratie and aristocratie from bureau "office". It combined bureau + -crat "member or supporter" + -ie "state, status", equivalent to English -cy. While English was at it, it also picked up bureau from the same source. Bureau originally meant "desk", but because so many offices contained desks, the meaning expanded. Bureau goes back even further, to burel "dark brown cloth", used back in the days to cover desks. This word was derived from bure "dark brown, a descendant of Latin burrus "reddish brown", also the origin of Spanish and Portuguese burro "donkey". The Latin word probably originated in PIE paewr- "fire", which ultimately became fire, German Feuer, and Greek pyr "fire", origin of the English combining form pyro-, as in pyromania, pyrotechnics, and pyrophobia. (William Hupy recently suggested bureau, but I felt this word an integral part of the bigger story of today's Good Word.)
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