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What is the appropriate word for the "delay/failure due to lengthy bureaucratic procedure"?

I am asking for a word describing the problem (IE a word for a complex slow bureaucratic process).

Example, somebody needs to send US$ 50 from Ethiopia to a German university to pay the application fee to a university. The central bank of Ethiopia imposed such a rule that, to send foreign currency from Ethiopia to any other country, the sender has to submit appropriate papers for each of the transactions. So, in order to satisfy the central bank, the commercial bank wants to see some paper from the sender-customer. But, the sender can't produce any official paper because he don't have any, rather than some Emails. The bank doesn't recognize the Emails. On the other hand, for only US$ 50, the German client isn't ready to provide any official paper.

So, finally, the customer ultimately fails to send the US$ 50 from Ethiopia to Germany.

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    could you add an example sentence with a blank space to help precise which of the several answers would fit best? – P. O. Aug 19 '16 at 16:44
  • @GreenAsJade, I am asking for a word describing the problem (IE a word for a complex slow bureaucratic process). – user20865 Aug 21 '16 at 4:28
43

A common term for bureaucratic complication that frustrates or prevents activity is red tape

The collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something, especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming.

American Heritage

Supplement: Red tape has an interesting etymology

"excessive bureaucratic rigmarole," 1736, in reference to the red tape formerly used in Great Britain (and the American colonies) for binding up legal and other official documents, mentioned from 1690s.

etymonline.com

Red ribbon, often with a wax seal, continued to be used in the US to show completeness of official legal documents, such as wills and deeds, well into the late 20th century.

  • This doesn't include the ultimate failure, does it? – Helmar Aug 19 '16 at 16:55
  • It does not presume failure, although that is often the case. If failure is the focus, @Peter Shor's catch-22 is a better choice. – bib Aug 19 '16 at 16:57
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    There are a number of elaborated idioms involving red tape that would work. Foundered (sank, drowned, etc.) in a sea of red tape is pretty common for a total fail, in spite of the mixed metaphor. For an enterprise that might yet succeed, "tied up in red tape", "caught in a web of red tape", and the like are applicable (and perhaps a bit more logical). – 1006a Aug 19 '16 at 17:49
  • @1006a I especially like sea of ... – bib Aug 19 '16 at 19:03
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    I think the most apt "red tape" idiom is "strangled in red tape". I was looking for a good example. I found this: finedictionary.com/Red-tape.html. There are a lot of results just googling the phrase as well. – DCShannon Aug 19 '16 at 19:35
19

This particular situation sounds like a Catch-22. From Wikipedia:

A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules.

  • +1 This suggests inevitable failure even more than red tape. – bib Aug 19 '16 at 16:44
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    I don't think this really applies. These seem to be just transaction partners that are not prepared for each other, rather than actual contradictory rules. – Helmar Aug 19 '16 at 16:53
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    @Helmar: No, this is clearly a catch-22. Rule 1: the German authorities will not give official paper documents for a $50 transaction. Rule 2: the Ethiopian authorities will not accept anything but official paper documents. Contradictory rules which an individual cannot get around. – Peter Shor Aug 19 '16 at 17:21
  • " for only US$ 50, the German client isn't ready to provide any official paper" sounds to me less like a strict rule and more like "it's not worth the trouble." If there was a specific policy prohibiting providing documentation of amounts that small, it would be a better example. This particular case sounds like something that could probably be resolved by a conversation with an appropriate German official explaining the special circumstances. – barbecue Aug 20 '16 at 18:15
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    Catch22 does not really describe a bureacratic process mired in red tape. The latter may come up with the former, but a Catch22 can be very simple and un-bureaurcratic. The example the OP gave is a catch22, but that does not appear to be the answer to to the actual question. – GreenAsJade Aug 21 '16 at 7:28
10

Kafkaesque- used to describe a situation that is confusing and frightening, especially one involving complicated official rules and systems that do not seem to make any sense

e.g. My attempt to get a new passport turned into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

rigmarole- a long and complicated process that is annoying and seems unnecessary

e.g. I couldn't face the whole rigmarole of getting a work permit again.

8

The term bureaucratization is used with a negative connotation in that respect:

  • Tendency to manage an organization by adding more controls, adherence to rigid procedures, and attention to every detail for its own sake.

(www.businessdictionary.com)

3

If the question is about complicated procedures, some have developed the concept of bloatocracy, applicable to a state, or a system in general. For instance in Bloatocracy and Ineptocracy, one can read:

In a bloatocratic system, it is beyond the capacity of the ordinary citizen to be aware of, keep track of, and do all the laws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures that are required of him or her.

or

Workers, employees, customers, and users of these businesses and institutions find themselves increasingly frustrated and unable to walk through the paperwork required to do even the most basic things.

So, bloatocratic could apply to the question.

However, the situation described in the OP's example is a different situation. Rules are quite simple, they just don't match. I was thinking about four options: deadlock, stalemate (from chess, aka pat or pat), impasse, and finally Mexican standoff .


For deadlock (my favorite here), I quote the concurrent computing sense, because your banking process involves e-mails and wire transfer. And in bureaucracy "it's always the fault of the computer".

[it] occurs when two competing actions wait for the other to finish, and thus neither ever does

The above page also refers to Catch-22, and oddly, there exists a Banker's algorithm, which is:

a resource allocation and deadlock avoidance algorithm developed by Edsger Dijkstra


In popular usage, the word stalemate refers to:

a conflict that has reached an impasse, and in which resolution or further action seems highly difficult or unlikely.

In chess, this is a situation in which the player who have to play "has no legal move"


The word impasse is more generic:

may also refer to any situation in which no progress can be made.


And a final one: a Mexican standoff (or shootout),

a confrontation between two or more parties in which no participant can proceed or retreat without being exposed to danger

  • Catch22 does not really describe a bureacratic process mired in red tape. The latter may come up with the former, but a Catch22 can be very simple and un-bureaurcratic. The example the OP gave is a catch22, but that does not appear to be the answer to to the actual question. – GreenAsJade Aug 21 '16 at 7:30
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    @GreenAsJade I believe there is a mismatch between the OP example and the question. – Laurent Duval Aug 21 '16 at 8:14
2

There is a word that could be a good option for your use case. While listed in the Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Unabridged dictionaries, this word is vulgar and not suitable for many kinds of formal writing even if it does directly convey the spirit of your idea. Consider carefully whether the use of this word is appropriate, as it is useful mainly in informal communications or in certain kinds of literary writing for which the selected use of expletives is condign.

The word is "a clusterfuck."

  • a particular kind of Catch-22 , in which multiple complicated problems mutually interfere with each other's solution.

  • A confusing or chaotic situation or event, often caused by a failure of communication, an excessive amount of people attempting to accomplish a given task, or complex environment.

1

I personally like 'obstructionism', particularly since it can also be used to refer to a person involved negatively - 'obstructionist'.

It also gets at the usual reason behind such procedures - job safety for incompetents.

The proper term for two processes that end up waiting on each other in computing is actually a "race condition", which while it often results in deadlock, is the more desccriptive phrase: as in "There's more race conditions in the Linux kernel than the Paris-Dakar rally."

As for "pat a pat", it reminds me of my feeling that too many management types end up playing pattycake rather than performing any useful function.

I mentioned it to a former colleague, who responded with: "The system implementation bureaucrashed due to the bureaucrawl triggered by obstructionists, turning a good idea into the usual bureaucrap.".