Red Tape

red tape

Red tape‘ is a derisive term for excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to governments, corporations and other large organizations. Red tape generally includes the filling out of seemingly unnecessary paperwork, obtaining of unnecessary licenses, having multiple people or committees approve a decision and various low-level rules that make conducting one’s affairs slower, more difficult, or both.

The origins of the term are somewhat obscure, but it is first noted in historical records in the 16th century, when Henry VIII besieged Pope Clement VII with around eighty or so petitions for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The documents were rolled, sealed and bound with the obligatory red tape, as was the custom. To this day, most U.K. barristers’ briefs are tied in a pink-colored ribbon known as ‘pink tape’ or ‘legal tape.’ All American Civil War veterans’ records were bound in red tape, and the difficulty in accessing them led to the modern American use of the term. Karl Marx wrote about the phenomenon of changing from one person in control of a complete task, to having multiple people each with specialties in specific tasks. He saw this occurring as society shifts from a Seigneurial system to a capitalist system.

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