In the U.S., it's often said that the legislative process is intentionally slow. It was designed that way so that laws could be changed, but not capriciously. Changing a law is supposed to require significant thought, deliberation, and justification.

I'd like an alternative for "intentionally slow." I'm looking for one adjective (a short phrase would be acceptable, but not preferred) to express two important aspects:

  1. The slowness of the process

  2. The intentionality of this design (the slowness is a feature, not a bug)

In case it helps, when I think about the first aspect, I think about viscosity. The normal use of viscosity has nothing to do with legislation. However, I think it's useful to think of the legislative process as neither an immutable solid nor a watery liquid, but rather a very viscous liquid. The shape of the law can and does change, but only very slowly.

Therefore the word(s) I'm looking for connotes something like "intentional viscosity." It should be easily understandable and would ideally require no explanation. I'd also like something that is more frequently used in the context of politics than the given example of "viscosity."

Does such a word/phrase exist?

  • Do you with to exclude or include implications of intentional (or even unintentional) frustrating complexity as well? The now-overused Kafkaesque comes to mind.
    – Jason C
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 14:59
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    @Jason C Thanks. Kafkaesque is very close, as I think the complexity (at least partially) implies viscosity, but I'd like to see if any other options come up. The issue with Kafkaesque is that in most cases where I've seen it used, it's criticizing said complexity as meaningless. I'd like something with neutral or positive connotations.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:01
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    Bureaucratic? It carries implications of endless forms, traceability, and even excessive red tape.
    – Hypaethral
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:03
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    @GrumbleSnatch My immediate response to Bureaucratic is similar to my response to Kafkaesque. It's frequently used to complain about government proceedings. I'm looking for a word that recognizes the merits and purposefulness of a slow process.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:06
  • Here's another example: when you're diving and you come up slowly, you don't complain about the red tape or the bureaucracy your diving instructor enforces. Sure, you might wish you could surface faster, but you know that if you do, you risk a negative consequence: the bends.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:08

12 Answers 12


Perhaps deliberate:


  1. carefully weighed or considered; studied; intentional.
  2. characterized by deliberation or cautious consideration; careful or slow in deciding.
  3. leisurely and steady in movement or action; slow and even; unhurried: moving with a deliberate step.

There's also the overused (in my opinion) Kafkaesque. It's close, although not exactly what you're after, since it usually implies a frustrating, perhaps unnecessary complexity as well, rather than an intentional well-behaved slowness:


  1. marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity.

I would go with deliberate, or a related word like careful, cautious, painstaking, etc.

There is also gradual, I suppose, although it feels strange to me here for reasons that I can't explain. You may have some success with it or one of its synonyms, though:


  1. taking place, changing, moving, etc., by small degrees or little by little.

(All definitions from Dictionary.com)

  • 12
    Or maybe deliberative?
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:10
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    @NVZ Side question: Is including that footnote the usual practice here, even though there are links? If so I'll put it in any future answers, too.
    – Jason C
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:35
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    Styles may vary, but it is a rule to mention sources by name along with links to them wherever possible. :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:41
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    I really like both deliberate and painstaking. A thesaurus search turned up meticulous, which I hadn't considered either. I can't decide which of the three I like best. Nonetheless, thanks for your help!
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 17:03
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    @arbitrary The choice between deliberate and meticulous, and the others, probably comes down to what you want to imply is happening throughout the process. The way I understand deliberate is it doesn't have any particular implications there, while meticulous makes me think that the time is spent carefully considering and tweaking all the details. That could just be me.
    – Jason C
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 21:28

Consider bureaucratic. This word tends to carry connotations of intentional or even excessive slowness.


  1. excessive multiplication of, and concentration of power in, administrative bureaus or administrators.

  2. administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine.

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    Please see my comment to Grumble Snatch underneath the question.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 18:58
  • Your question directly references "legislative process" which is a function of government, but in any case the word applicable to many other processes (large corporations for example).
    – user171152
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 19:42
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    I'm not contesting that. The reason bureaucratic doesn't work is because of its connotations. Again, please see my comment to Grumble Snatch, not the original question.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 19:44
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    I did read your comment; apologies if I missed any subtleties there. I suppose bureaucratic does lack positive connotations.
    – user171152
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 20:28

Throttled (adj.) or throttling, from the verb throttle. — M-W

verb 3. to not allow (something) to grow or develop


verb (transitive) 1. To cut back on the speed of (an engine, person, organization, network connection, etc.).

Example usages:

  1. Throttled data transferTechTarget

    Data transfer throttling is often used to prevent spam or bulk e-mail transmission through a network server. If the number of e-mail messages sent through the server is limited to, say, one destination address per minute, it is impossible for that server to effectively operate as a medium for the transmission of spam because it would take weeks or months to transfer the number of messages necessary for effective spam marketing

  2. Bandwidth throttlingWikipedia

    Bandwidth throttling is the intentional slowing of Internet service by an Internet service provider. It is a reactive measure employed in communication networks to regulate network traffic and minimize bandwidth congestion.

  3. Throttling process (computing)Wikipedia

    In software, a throttling process, or a throttling controller as it is sometimes called, is a process responsible for regulating the rate at which application processing is conducted, either statically or dynamically.

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    I appreciate the suggestion, but like with viscosity, it's not a word that's (to my knowledge) frequently used in a political context.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 17:05
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    @arbitrarystringofletters Ah, didn't notice that condition.
    – NVZ
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 17:07

I would think that 'glacial', with the addition of 'pace' at the end, sums it up nicely.

glacial adj. Extremely slow, like the movement of a glacier: Work proceeded at a glacial pace.

Source: The Free Dictionary

glacial pace 'At a glacial pace' means 'very slowly'.

Source: Urban Dictionary


I would go with conservative. If memory serves, I've read in political science textbooks and political commentary the American political system described as conservative, and not in the sense of a political ideology.


having the power or tendency to conserve or preserve.


tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions

But I would caution that use of this word might lead careless readers to think you were stating that the American political system was inherently conservative as a political philosophy. If you do decide to use this word I would explain that.


How about self-braking or self-limiting?

Self-braking is an obvious combination of self- and braking, where braking means to slow or stop by means of, or as if by means of, a brake. [Dictionary.com]

Needless to say, the U.S. political system (including its associated legislative processes) embodies an almost innumerable number of "brakes" stemming from the principles upon which it was designed: checks and balances and separation of powers [Encyclopedia Brittanica].

With regard to the OP's specific requirements:

  • Self-braking is one word.

  • The self- part of self-braking indicates that braking is an intentional design element of the system, including its legislative processes.

  • Self-braking is easily understandable, i.e., requires no explanation.

  • Self-braking has an obvious meaning in politics in that it is rooted in the bedrock political principles of checks and balances and separation of powers.

Addendum: I'd like to add another possibility: self-limiting. The logic behind it is the same as for self-braking, but it seems a little more natural. It also has the advantage that it plays off of another bedrock principle underpinning the U.S. system: the concept of limited government. Self-limiting has political currency.

  • I'm going to stick with the accepted answer, but this is one of the best alternates on the page. Thanks!
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 3:44
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    @arbitrarystringofletters Thanks. At the end of the day, you should accept the answer that works best for you, which we all understand is not necessarily the best answer. You asked a good question in a good way, and you engaged constructively with respondents. I enjoyed the challenge. +1 Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 3:53
  • @arbitrarystringofletters I added an addendum I thought you might find of interest. Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 21:23

I think tortuous may be a fitting adjective:

tor·tu·ous ˈtôrCH(o͞o)əs/ adjective

• full of twists and turns. "the route is remote and tortuous"

synonyms: twisting, twisty, twisting and turning, winding, windy, zigzag, sinuous, snaky, serpentine, meandering, circuitous

• excessively lengthy and complex. "a tortuous argument"

synonyms: convoluted, complicated, complex, labyrinthine, tangled, tangly, involved, confusing, difficult to follow, involuted, lengthy, overlong, circuitous

Plus, it has the benefit of having connotations of "torture", which seems a fitting description of the American legislative process. :-)

  • The connotation of torture is the exact opposite of what I'm looking for.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 0:30
  • Sorry, that was a joke. The two words aren't actually related.
    – larapsodia
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 0:34
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    I got the joke, and I actually agree that the process can be tortuous; it's just not what I'm looking for.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 0:36

I suggest resistant. From Merriam Webster:

: opposed to something : wanting to prevent something from happening

: not affected or harmed by something


I see that filibuster has been commented upon but hasn't yet, til now, been offered as an answer to the OP. Here goes:

Filibuster: the use of extreme dilatory tactics in an attempt to delay or prevent action especially in a legislative assembly (M-W)

The movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, stared James Stewart in one of his most memorable roles. As a newly elected US Senator, Mr. Smith finds himself taking the floor of the Senate in an attempt to prevent the passage of a Bill. His tactic of staying on his feet and addressing the House for almost 24-hours is an example of a filibuster . (Wikipedia)


I would say that it's called two things, each of which describes the U.S. legislative process and embodies slowness and the intentionality of slowness, i.e., designed intentional slowness. These terms are checks and balances and separation of powers.

From Encyclopedia Brittanica:

checks and balances: principle of government under which separate branches are empowered to prevent actions by other branches and are induced to share power. Checks and balances are applied primarily in constitutional governments. They are of fundamental importance in tripartite governments, such as that of the United States, which separate powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

separation of powers: division of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government among separate and independent bodies. Such a separation, it has been argued, limits the possibility of arbitrary excesses by government, since the sanction of all three branches is required for the making, executing, and administering of laws.

  • Looking for an adjective.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 1:45
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    @arbitrarystringofletters Neither viscosity nor intentional viscosity are adjectives. I suppose viscous and *intentionally viscous * would work if they had political currency. I'll rethink. – Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 2:57

How about "the regulatory process" or "a Rube Goldberg procedure"? On Rube Goldberg as related to political procedures, see this link.

Here is Merriam-Webster's definition of Rube Goldberg:

accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply ; also: characterized by such complex means

  • Hi Eternity, welcome to English Language & Usage. Thanks for your contribution. If you think you might use our site again (and I hope you do!), please make sure you take the Tour. :-) Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 9:39

"The mills of God..." This is often used to refer to a line first attributed to Plutarch, and featured by many others. The neatest use, to my mind, is this one from Longfellow:

Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;

Brits (and Germans, too) use this when talking about the deliberate snail's pace feel when dealing with bureaucrats.

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    I've never heard this phrase before, but I certainly do like it. Thanks for teaching me something.
    – user109263
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 12:51