red tape

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English[edit]

Bundle of US pension documents from 1906 bound in red tape

Etymology[edit]

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

Noun[edit]

red tape (uncountable)

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Wikipedia

  1. The binding tape once used for holding important documents together.
    • 1893, Walter Besant, The Ivory Gate, Ch.II:
      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. (idiomatic) Time-consuming regulations or bureaucratic procedures.
    All the red tape and paperwork that goes on there prevents any progress.

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