red tape

excessive formality and routine required before official action can be taken.

1730–40; after the red tape used to tie official documents

redtapism, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
red tape
obstructive official routine or procedure; time-consuming bureaucracy
[C18: from the red tape used to bind official government documents]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

red tape
"excessive bureaucratic rigmarole," 1736, in allusion to the red tape formerly used in Great Britain (and the Amer. colonies) for binding up legal and other official documents.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

red tape definition

Bureaucratic procedures that delay progress: “Paula had hoped to settle the inheritance quickly but got caught up in a lot of red tape.”

red tape definition

Administrative procedures, especially in a bureaucracy, that are marked by complexity and delay: “Red tape delayed his passport.”

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

red tape

Official forms and procedures, especially those that are complex and time-consuming. For example, There's so much red tape involved in approving our remodeling that we're tempted to postpone it indefinitely. This expression alludes to the former British custom of tying up official documents with red ribbon. [Early 1800s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
The government's hand is everywhere and bureaucratic red tape is thick and
With local tags, you'll avoid a lot of red tape, and you'll stand a better
  chance of finding parts.
She and her five staff members help students and employers navigate visa issues
  and other red tape.
As an adjunct, there is less red tape to go through on the administrative side,
  so my process was surprisingly quick.
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