'red tape' / pink string

Posted by Lewis on January 12, 2004

In Reply to: 'cutting the red tape' posted by James Briggs on January 11, 2004

: : The expression relates to getting around bureaucratic barriers to the realization of some objective. But why 'red tape' and how did this expression start -- was it originally a UK based expression or elsewhere in the English speaking world?

: Red tape: A load of red tape is a way of describing something that is overfull of bureaucracy. Charles Dickens is believed to be the first person to have used this phrase. The red tape is the tape (in fact pink in colour) used to tie up bundles of official papers.

For some reason, pink tape is still in use today in legal circles. It is not 'tape' like sellotape(tm) or masking tape, but some strong cotton-like material which has been dyed - generally pink.
that pink tape is used to tie up bundles of legal papers, these days mainly for sending papers to Counsel (barristers). Green tape - same material dyed green is used to sew up documents and black is/was used for wills/probate papers.

Over time with photo-sensitve dyes, the red tape would lighten and become pink. I guess that it probably saved money to dye it dark pink - it is often re-used and so old tape would have been pink anyway.

When I first came to the law, sewing up documents was one of the first things I was taught by the elderly legal executive I worked alongside. I've got some pink tape in my briefcase even as I write - it is tough, far tougher than something garish pink should be and when my wing-mirror got damaged, tying it back in place with red-tape worked well for a week or two!

In legal circles, it is usually called 'pink string' rather than 'red tape'.

If you go into a clerks room at a barristers' chambers, you'll see how government and business can literally become caught/tied up in 'red tape'.

I'd like to propose that we add a more modern expression in tribute to one of eastern europe's best writers - we could say that things were "caught up in Kafka's castle".