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From Middle English ierarchie, jerarchie, from Old French ierarchie, jerarchie, from Late Latin ierarchia, from Latin hierarchia, from Ancient Greek ἱεραρχία (hierarkhía, rule of a high priest), from ἱεράρχης (hierárkhēs, high priest), from ἱερός (hierós, holy) + ἄρχω (árkhō, I rule). The H was re-added c. 1500 due to influence from Classical Latin.


  • IPA(key): /ˈhaɪ.ə.ɹɑː(ɹ).ki/, /ˈhaɪ.ɹɑː(ɹ).ki/
  • (file)


hierarchy (plural hierarchies)

  1. A body of authoritative officials organized in nested ranks.
    • 2007 May 26, Leslie Feinberg, “Care & prevention, not repression”, in Workers World[1]:
      Gay men and bisexuals were blamed for the [AIDS] epidemic for much the same reason that the church hierarchy in the Middle Ages accused Jewish people of creating bubonic plague by "poisoning the wells."
    • 2013 August 10, Lexington, “Keeping the mighty honest”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8848:
      The [Washington] Post's proprietor through those turbulent [Watergate] days, Katharine Graham, held a double place in Washington’s hierarchy: at once regal Georgetown hostess and scrappy newshound, ready to hold the establishment to account.
  2. A social, religious, economic or political system or organization in which people or groups of people are ranked with some superior to others based on their status, authority or some other trait.
    • 2023 June 7, Charles Hugh Smith, Look Around and What Do You See? Social Defeat[2]:
      Social defeat arises in strict social hierarchies in which the few dominate the many. Overcrowding exacerbates the many ills of social defeat within these social hierarchies based on dominance.
  3. Any group of objects ranked so that every one but the topmost is subordinate to a specified one above it.
    • 2017 June 1, Peter Mark Adams, The Game of Saturn: Decoding the Sola-Busca Tarocchi, Scarlet Imprint, →ISBN, page 158:
      ... the surviving portions provide enough detail to outline its principal features: the hierarchy of beings to whom his liturgy was to be addressed (we previously considered Plethon's hierarchy of gods in our examination of his Summary []

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