red tape


Bundle of US pension documents from 1906 bound in red tape


Thought to allude to the former practice of binding government documents in red-coloured tape.


  • (file)


red tape (uncountable)

English Wikipedia has an article on:
  1. The binding tape once used for holding important documents together.
    • 1892, Walter Besant, chapter II, in The Ivory Gate [], New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], OCLC 16832619:
      At twilight in the summer there is never anybody to fear—man, woman, or cat—in the chambers and at that hour the mice come out. They do not eat parchment or foolscap or red tape, but they eat the luncheon crumbs.
  2. (metonymically, idiomatic) Time-consuming regulations or bureaucratic procedures.
    Synonyms: administrivia, administrativia, paperwork
    All the red tape and paperwork that goes on there prevents any progress.
    • 2022 October 5, David Wallace-Wells, “Progressives Should Rally Around a Clean Energy Construction Boom”, in The New York Times[1]:
      One conspicuous cost of the compromise reached was a promise made by Senator Chuck Schumer to Manchin on what was vaguely called permitting reform: a catchall phrase referring to a whole host of efforts to cut red tape and ease the rollout of energy infrastructure.

Usage notesEdit

  • For the figurative sense of bureaucratic procedures, the metaphor is often extended, e.g. cutting [through] red tape, bound up in red tape.

Derived termsEdit