Red Tape

Definition: Excessive bureaucracy, or the rigid enforcement of rules despite the fact that they hinder progress.

Example: There was so much red tape involved in Linda’s application to change the colour of her house, she seriously considered blowing it up and starting again.


Red tape is believed to date back to the reign of Charles V, King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor. That’s way way back in the sixteenth century. His administration bound their most important documents in red ribbon. Some Spanish government departments still follow this procedure today.

Adoption into English followed a hundred years later.

In literary terms, red tape‘s most prominent use is probably from David Copperfield. In it, Charles Dickens refers to Britannia being ’bound hand and foot in red tape’ .


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