red tape


red tape

Meaning | Synonyms

  • over excessive or time-consuming rules and bureaucracy that hinder progress
  • adherence to official processes and formalities that prevent action
  • conformity to rigid standards/regulations that seem unnecessary and slow down or hamper decisions making
  • official formalities
  • bureaucracy
  • paperwork
  • official procedure
  • rules and regulations

Example Sentences

  1. She could have finished the project last week, but it was impossible to cut through all the red tape.
  2. The red tape we had to get through to push the department changes forward was unbelievable.
  3. The clerks in the back office absolutely thrive on red tape.
  4. Can you not just cut through the red tape and get the regulations passed so we can build this hospital?
  5. Plans for a childcare centre in Blenheim have been scrapped, with the developer blaming council red tape.
  6. Red tape in Germany has also been a problem in wind energy expansion, with some projects taking several years from application to realisation.
  7. After the Brexit, the Britons who own homes in the EU struggle with red tape.
  8. Red tape is slowing down the vaccine roll-out plan in the country.
  9. In Canada, the historic Pointe-Claire windmill repair caught up in red tape.
  10. Removing unnecessary red tape that wastes researchers’ time will focus on a new independent review into research administration.


This idiom is said to have originated with King Charles V of Spain in the 16th century. He started to bind his ‘must do’ paperwork with red tape to separate them from the more mundane documents that were tied up with plain string. This was supposedly to accelerate his paperwork through the correct channels of officialdom. The tradition continued and was adopted by other European monarchies. Spain and Latin America are still notorious for excessive, time consuming red tape.

Charles Dickens uses the phrase in Davis Copperfield. He wrote:

“Britannia, that unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl: skewered through and through with office pens, and bound hand and foot with red tape.”

Even today, legal briefs are tied with different colours ribbon officially called “legal tape.”

One another theory suggests that the coloured ribbons are claimed to help the barrister to compartmentalise his/her emotions and help detach them from the case. Well, that’s the story told down through the ages.

A government work tied with white tape is most usually a prosecution brief from the Crown. The bundle above is then re-tied in red after the review and advice by the counsel. This is one of the debated origins of the phrase “red tape” to mean bureaucratic inertia or hurdle.

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