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

Off-roading is low on the hierarchy of priorities for standard-issue F-150s. Ezra Dyer, Popular Mechanics, "I'm Not Sure We Need a Ford Ranger Raptor," 13 June 2019 The German right-back made a loan switch to Scottish champions Celtic, but found himself behind Mikael Lustig in the hierarchy throughout his time at Celtic Park. SI.com, "Borussia Dortmund Loan Players: How They Got on Away From Der BVB During the 2018/19 Season," 11 June 2019 Neurons in olfactory areas randomly sample the entire receptor space, not specific regions in a hierarchy. Quanta Magazine, "New AI Strategy Mimics How Brains Learn to Smell," 18 Sep. 2018 According to Young, their eternal salvation and advancement in the hierarchy of the church and in the eternities was cut off. Mica Mcgriggs, Teen Vogue, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Celebrated the 40-Year Anniversary of the Lifted Ban Against Black Members," 11 July 2018 Much of the news getting out to the broader population is likely trickling down through the hierarchy of the ruling party. Washington Post, "Ahead of Trump summit, Kim Jong Un crafts a careful message," 17 May 2018 Much of the news getting out to the broader population is likely trickling down through the hierarchy of the ruling party. Eric Talmadge, Fox News, "Ahead of Trump summit, Kim Jong Un crafts a careful message," 17 May 2018 Paul Flato’s bold and whimsical American designs defied the hierarchy and disrupted tastes. Stellene Volandes, Town & Country, "T&C Exclusive: The New Owner of an Iconic American Jewel is Revealed," 15 Apr. 2019 But the McCarrick case is something else entirely, implicating the powerful U.S. hierarchy and the Vatican itself. Nicole Winfield, The Seattle Times, "Pope’s alleged cover-up pivots on when, if sanctions imposed," 28 Aug. 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

19 Jun 2019

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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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