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

Its frictionless surface is composed of the obsolete hierarchies that have been melted by the Internet. Eliza Brooke, Vox, "How the Great Recession influenced a decade of design," 27 Dec. 2018 And not just because a wrongdoer has finally been caught, but because apparently entrenched hierarchies are being dismantled. Tiffany Watt Smith, SELF, "Why I Stopped Feeling Bad About Feeling Schadenfreude," 29 Nov. 2018 But the team’s hierarchy has changed since those championship days, with Wilson sitting at the top of the totem pole. Matt Calkins, The Seattle Times, "To make playoffs, Seahawks need Russell Wilson to be better than good," 7 Nov. 2018 Fans of Trump are invested in maintaining a conservative hierarchy laid out by George Lakoff, a professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley. Jennifer Wright, Harper's BAZAAR, "We're Living in a Time of Cruel Laughing Men," 17 Oct. 2018 He naturally would have expected his measurements of cranial capacity to fall neatly within that hierarchy. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "There’s new evidence confirming bias of the “father of scientific racism”," 4 Oct. 2018 Here is a look at the scandal, which has split the U.S. Catholic hierarchy and tarnished Francis' already troubled record on abuse. Nicole Winfield, Fox News, "Sanctions, sex abuse and silence: A primer on the pope saga," 9 Sep. 2018 Each drawing sits at the apex of a triangle composed of rabbit fur and photo scans of the skins, all of which questions hierarchies of representation and histories of invasiveness, including our own. Gayle Clemans, The Seattle Times, "‘The Veil’ exhibition at Bridge Productions spans ideas of what’s seen and unseen," 7 Aug. 2018 Despite struggling for game time last season, the tenacious midfielder is believed to be highly prized by the Los Blancos hierarchy, who view him as the natural successor to his international teammate, 32-year-old Luka Modrić. SI.com, "Real Madrid Set to Dig Heels in Over Mateo Kovačić Exit as Club Look to Hold Onto 'Modrić Successor'," 24 June 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

16 Jan 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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