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I think there is a word that commonly occurs as a collocation with governmental systems that are slow, unwieldy, inefficient, even kind of obstructed, but I can’t remember it.

The idea is a system with a limited range of movement, like just to carry out some operation you can imagine is like a slow machine which first does one slow necessary action, then another, and so on, till it’s completed.

Words like bulky and cumbersome come to mind but aren’t it. I think it might have a “b” in it, but I wouldn’t want to lead someone astray in case I’m mistaken on that point.

It would be an adjective, to be used like “Their _____ welfare system means that people only receive benefits months after their first applying.”

Thank you.

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  • Bureaucratic says it all. Starts with a B, continues with the speed and cheer of a sloth, and ends by tripping over itself with self-justification. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 13:46

2 Answers 2

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Their lumbering welfare system means that people only receive benefits months after their first applying.

lumbering (adj.)

Moving in a slow, heavy, awkward way.

Like any other titanic, lumbering, inefficient machine, Hollywood studios dangerously pollute the atmosphere. Lexico

Moving heavily, clumsily, or noisily Webster’s New World College Dictionary


Conservatives have yet to challenge conclusively the contention that a government which devotes huge swathes of taxpayer cash to tackling 'social inequality' through a lumbering welfare system is more caring than one which believes in empowering the individual. Mark Field; Between the Crashes (2013)

No, my dear Sir, let us all join hand and heart in overturning the old lumbering system of education, let us deliver our children from this house of bondage, this worse than Egyptian slavery, and say to them, be ye free, for ye are men like ourselves; ..." Richard Hiley; A Supposed Dialog... (1835)

His reign name Yongzheng, meaning "Harmonious Justice," proclaimed the intended direction of his rule, and he brought prosperity to the nation and efficiency to the lumbering governmental bureaucracy. L. Bosch and D. Mancoff; Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture, and the Image of Women (2009)

(Lumbering also has the B you imagined.)

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  • It's been gaining traction for decades, and lumbering bureaucracy is currently almost exactly as popular as my ponderous bureaucracy. For my money though, lumbering more strongly implies actually moving (but unstoppable, and not easily "steered" / controlled). Whereas ponderous is more evocative of the inertia that almost prevents movement in the first place. Horses for courses. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 11:36
  • (I hope you won't mind if I include this extra term in my chart. I think it's useful to see them side-by-side.) Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 11:39
  • @FumbleFingers Not at all! Ponderous lost much ground--clearly under its own weight :-)
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 11:39
  • Maybe something about the "zeitgeist" of the 60s (anti-establishment hippiedom, etc.) accounts for the meteoric rise of ponderous back then. But as an incorrigible ole fart myself, I'm quite prepared to believe it's just an example of English "dumbing down". As more of the general population start using / encountering such relatively rarefied metaphors, the proportion of them who get confused by erroneous conflation with ponder=consider deeply rises. Not quite the same as the fall from grace of niggardly, but maybe still a side-effect of dumbing down. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 11:55
  • And don't forget elephantine. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 15:32
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ponderous - slow and awkward because of being very heavy or large

Here's a chart showing that ponderous is used of bureaucracies more often than hidebound (unwilling or unable to change because of tradition or convention), but both are very common. Although superficially they look like significantly different metaphoric references, I'd say that in practice they both convey almost exactly the same concept.

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