Charles T. Goodsell
Virginia Polytechnic InstituteandStateUniversity
A slang term meaning unjustified attack on government employees, used primarily in the United States and often in reference to career civil servants of the federal government.
While the word "bureaucrat" has a technical meaning in the sociology of large organizations, in lay parlance it is a pejorative term referring to any long-term government employee or civil servant. The bureaucrat in this sense is regarded as personifying the allegedly negative features of "bureaucracy," that is, being lazy, rule-minded, rigid, wasteful, and eager to retain power.
The verb "to bash" has had a number of slang meanings in the English‐ speaking world over the past two centuries. In this context, it means to strike with a crushing or smashing blow or to flog. Some etymologists believe the term is echoic, that is, an example of onomatopoeia, a word whose pronunciation imitates the sound of its referent. Other historians of language think the term may be a blend of the verbs "bang" and "smash" or, alternatively, a thickening of "pash."
"Bureaucrat bashing" probably entered the American political vocabulary in the 1970s. The expression has since spread to some other English‐ speaking countries, but seems not to be as popular there as in the United States. The term, on its face, would appear to be useful to those who are disgusted with government. Yet, those most likely to use it tend to have the opposite view, that condemnation of government employees is often unjustified and should itself be condemned. To them, "bureaucrat bashing" means an undesirable or unneeded flogging of public employees.