Class divisions are bad, but the source of hierarchy ("division of society") is really unfair, etymologically speaking. In Middle English, the original spellings alternated between jerarchie and ierarchie. This came from Old French ierarchie, which generally meant "rule". Going back further, the word took a reactionary and religious turn, with the Latin word hierarchia. This meant "division of angels" and was the first time the word implied "echelons" and the last time it meant something to do with the Church. This in turn traces back to Greek hierarkhes, "priest", a combination of hieros, meaning "sacred", and arkhein, meaning "to rule". Hieros comes from the root of ire, the Proto-Indo-European root eis, which generally meant "religious passion", while arkhein's origin is unknown. In any case, a hierarchy can be traced back to mean a "sacred rule" by the upper class, showing just how deep societal schisms run.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd