I read an article on the opposite of herarchy: Is heterarchy the answer to the crisis of hierarchy?, but the prefix of heterarchy seems suspect to me. I don't find a prefix as heter then I thought that should be hetero but I find from here that the opposite of hetero is not hier but homo.

Then I wonder what is the opposite prefix of hier?

  • 1
    "prefix" not "suffix" because "heter-" is at the start of the word.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 7:17
  • @JamesK Thanks. I have modified my question. Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 7:24

1 Answer 1


The modern meaning of words is not their etymology. If you think you can understand the meaning of a word from its parts you will get confused.

The word "hierarchy" has the prefix "hier-" meaning "sacred" or "holy". Originally it referred to "Rule by a high priest". Then it meant the structure in the church of pastors, bishops, cardinals and the Pope. The modern meaning developed by analogy to mean a system with ranks of authority. The same Greek word appears in "hieroglyph", literally "Holy letter" but specifically Ancient Egyptian formal letters.

And "heterarchy" does indeed come from "heteros" which means "other, different" and can be seen in "heterosexual". Don't worry about the loss of "o" that sort of sound change is common when words are combined. It means "rule by another" in particular "rule by an external power", for example India before 1948 was ruled by Britain. It is also used to mean a system of organisation in which individuals are unranked, or the authority is flexible and different people can be "leader" in their own domain. It seems that this second meaning developed in the 1960s and is now the domininant meaning.

So although hierarchy and heterarchy are now opposites, you couldn't guess that from the Greek words that they come from.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .