hierarchy

noun
hi·​er·​ar·​chy | \ˈhī-(ə-)ˌrär-kē also ˈhi(-ə)r-ˌär- \
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

Further allegations have been made against McCarrick, also claiming that the highest members of the Church hierarchy, all the way up to Popes Benedict and Francis, knew about the accusations at least since 2013. Mary Beth Keane, Vogue, "Amid Scandal After Scandal, One Catholic Mother Faces A Painful Choice," 6 Dec. 2018 But the Enlightenment overthrew hierarchy, starting in the 17th century with Newton and other naturalists. Allen C. Guelzo, WSJ, "America Was Always an Exceptional Nation, but Is It Still?," 23 Nov. 2018 People often name executors based on family hierarchy (the oldest child, the only male) or personal relationships (the spouse, the best friend), rather than considering the skills needed for the job, estate planning attorneys say. Liz Weston, The Seattle Times, "How to write a will that won’t trigger a family feud," 24 Sep. 2018 Such changes in the military hierarchy, only some of which have been announced publicly, are the prerogative of the president, who is also minister of defense. Aomar Ouali And Elaine Ganley, Fox News, "Algerian generals, others fired without explanation," 12 Sep. 2018 Many of the surrounding circumstances—the manipulation that was exacerbated by military hierarchy, the hostile atmosphere among my fellow classmates—felt twisted, messy, just…wrong. Polo Tate, Marie Claire, "Sexual Assault in the Military: One Woman's True Story," 8 Aug. 2018 Golf knows its place among the American sports hierarchy, and getting out of the way of football (pro and college) and playoff-race baseball was certainly a priority in creating this new shorter season. Daniel Rapaport, SI.com, "FORE Questions: Breaking Down the New PGA Tour Schedule," 12 July 2018 The hierarchy of value has changed, too: Sometimes a copy is valued as much as or more than the real thing. Vogue, "You Won’t Believe What Ava Nirui Dreamed Up for Her New Marc Jacobs Collaboration," 1 Nov. 2018 Julia Roberts is stepping off her perch atop the hierarchy of film royalty to star in a TV series for the first time. Julius Young, Fox News, "'Homecoming' star Julia Roberts opens up about 'mental challenge' of filming new Amazon series," 28 July 2018

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

18 Dec 2018

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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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