What is the origin of the word red-tapism?

And what does it actually mean?

Lexico says it first appeared in the mid-19th century in the Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, a London paper. Searching deeper, I discovered that the owner, William Cobbett, supported expanding suffrage, raising the minimum pay for agricultural workers, and giving the poor food and employment. His newspaper was in print from 1802 until his death in 1836.

But in which year did red-tapism first appear, and did he coin it?

Can anyone provide more details on its origins?

  • 3
    Seems odd to be asking about "red-tapism" without even mentioning the very well-known term "red tape" - I would have thought one followed from the other.
    – nnnnnn
    Oct 6, 2021 at 11:43
  • 1
    Yes, it derives from red tape.
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 6, 2021 at 11:49

1 Answer 1


red-tapism, red-tapeism (n.)

Behaviour, practices, or attitudes associated with an excessive adherence to official rules and formalities; red tape.

1834 Cobbett's Weekly Polit. Reg. 28 June 323 The mysteries of ‘red-tapeism’. OED

Link to this Cobbett's issue. This appears to be an unsigned letter beginning "(From the Morning Herald 21. June.)" Note that red-tapery has an earlier first citation.

Insistence on or preoccupation with red tape m-w

red-tapery (n.)

Rigid adherence to official rules and formalities; red tape. OED

1831 Fraser's Mag. 3 654 These were the great heroes of the red-tapery

Link to this Fraser's issue.

red-tapery, red-tapism

The system of red-tape; extreme adherence to official routine of formalities The Anglo-American Encyclopedia and Dictionary (1896)

(A search in Google Books turned up nothing earlier than the OED's first citations for either term.)

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