hierarchy

noun
hi·​er·​ar·​chy | \ ˈhī-(ə-)ˌrär-kē also ˈhi(-ə)r-ˌär- How to pronounce hierarchy (audio) \
plural hierarchies

Definition of hierarchy

1 : a division of angels
2a : a ruling body of clergy organized into orders or ranks each subordinate to the one above it especially : the bishops of a province or nation
b : church government by a hierarchy
3 : a body of persons in authority
4 : the classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing also : the group so classified
5 : a graded or ranked series a hierarchy of values

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What did hierarchy originally mean?

The earliest meaning of hierarchy in English has to do with the ranks of different types of angels in the celestial order. The idea of categorizing groups according to rank readily transferred to the organization of priestly or other governmental rule. The word hierarchy is, in fact, related to a number of governmental words in English, such as monarchy, anarchy, and oligarchy, although it itself is now very rarely used in relation to government.

The word comes from the Greek hierarchēs, which was formed by combining the words hieros, meaning “supernatural, holy,” and archos, meaning. “ruler.” Hierarchy has continued to spread its meaning beyond matters ecclesiastical and governmental, and today is commonly found used in reference to any one of a number of different forms of graded classification.

Examples of hierarchy in a Sentence

… he wrote a verse whose metaphors were read somewhere in the Baathist hierarchy as incitement to Kurdish nationalism. — Geraldine Brooks, Los Angeles Times, 30 Dec. 2001 Whereas the monkeys normally hew to strict hierarchies when it comes to who gets the best food and who grooms whom, there are no obvious top or rotten bananas in the sharing of millipede secretions. — Natalie Angier, New York Times, 5 Dec. 2000 The idea that social order has to come from a centralized, rational, bureaucratic hierarchy was very much associated with the industrial age. — Francis Fukuyama, Atlantic, May 1999 The church hierarchy faced resistance to some of their decisions. He was at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. a rigid hierarchy of social classes
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Recent Examples on the Web

Implicit in his explanation was the unwritten philosophical hierarchy of Anahata: Engineers at the top, then users, and then, long after that, cheerleaders, janitors, creationists, and, finally, the Anahata sales team. Eric Johnson, Recode, "Google’s former PR boss Jessica Powell wrote a satirical novel about tech and published it all on Medium," 2 Oct. 2018 After invading in 1940, the Nazi hierarchy ensconced themselves in Paris’s luxury hotels and hobnobbed at theaters and fine restaurants. Elaine Ganley, BostonGlobe.com, "Paris celebrats its liberation from the Nazis 75 years ago," 25 Aug. 2019 After invading in 1940, the Nazi hierarchy ensconced themselves in Paris’ luxury hotels, and hobnobbed at theaters and fine restaurants. Washington Post, "Paris celebrates its liberation from Nazis, 75 years on," 25 Aug. 2019 Tommy John surgery in 2017 derailed his rise within the organizational hierarchy. Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, "Astros release pitcher Brady Rodgers," 24 Aug. 2019 It is understood that, following a busy summer transfer window, the club's hierarchy have now turned their attention to the club's roster, and are attempting to tie a number of players down to long-term deals. SI.com, "Arsenal Set to Offer Alexandre Lacazette & Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Bumper New Contracts," 20 Aug. 2019 After the war, however, Lieber rushed to restore gender hierarchies, making sure power rested overwhelmingly with men. Brenda Wineapple, The New Republic, "Who wrote women out of Civil War history?," 16 Aug. 2019 The majority, however, are white supremacists, who also believe that races form a normative hierarchy with whiteness at the top. The Economist, "What is “White Nationalism”?," 14 Aug. 2019 Racist ideas suggest a racial hierarchy among racial groups. Lily Rothman, Time, "How to Be an Antiracist Author Ibram X. Kendi on What We Get Wrong About Racism," 8 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hierarchy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of hierarchy

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for hierarchy

Middle English ierarchie rank or order of holy beings, from Anglo-French jerarchie, from Medieval Latin hierarchia, from Late Greek, from Greek hierarchēs

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Statistics for hierarchy

Last Updated

11 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for hierarchy

The first known use of hierarchy was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for hierarchy

hierarchy

noun

English Language Learners Definition of hierarchy

: a group that controls an organization and is divided into different levels
: a system in which people or things are placed in a series of levels with different importance or status

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Comments on hierarchy

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