Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

A pecking order is a social hierarchy. With domestic fowl, it is the social hierarchy of a flock of chickens in which the dominant birds peck the subordinate birds who submit to it as a signal of acceptance of the difference between their social standings. All up and down the ladder, birds peck those beneath them without fear of retaliation and submit to being pecked by those above them. This occurs throughout the day when chickens are pecking grains of food from the barnyard. Chickens don’t line up according to who arrived first or take one of those paper numbers at the deli and license bureau. If some bird pecks you, get out of its way.

To peck is to strike with a beak or pointed instrument

The act of pecking is to make a series of quick, sharp strikes, especially with a beak or a pointed tool, and also applies to the light peck on the cheek you get from a distant relative. 

The chickens who were the best peckers were the dominant ones and were bred to fight

They were given metal spurs to attack and kill each other with and the blood sport of cockfighting continues more than 6,000 years later.

In the human world, the pecking order is the usually informal hierarchy of authority or command

It is an expression of the natural propensity for some to dominate others and for others to submit to being dominated.

The sense of a hierarchy of persons or things was popular with ruling classes

Of late, people have become more aware of the ranks used by the wealthy ruling upper class, also called nobles, royals and aristocrats. Dedicated tabloid readers know Kings rule, Princes are next in line, then Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscount, Barons, Baronets and Knights.

The sense of a hierarchy of persons or things was popular in religion, too

Hierarchy originally meant the rank in the sacred order of the angels. From top to bottom, seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and guardian angels. One denomination formalized ranks of their church officials in a similar fashion with popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons. They used costumes of varying fabrics, designs and colors to indicate their place in the church hierarchy.

Hierarchies in the military and differences in rank are made to be obvious

Each soldier or sailor outranks someone and each is outranked by others. The big difference is the use of insignia to make it clear to everyone who’s who. We also see formal hierarchies in business, where presidents outrank vice presidents who outrank directors who outrank managers, but usually without any formal insignia. 


These are levels in hierarchies, the relative standing or position. It is rows, tiers, levels and orderly arrangements. The word rank was first used in the French army to mean a row of men. If you’ve ever been in an army, one of the first things they taught you was to get in rank. If you didn’t know what that meant, you quickly joined the scramble to line up in neat, straight, orderly rows and columns behind those who did because you know you are at the very bottom of the pecking order.

Rank and file

This is the main body of any group, and not the elites. The expression comes from the military, whererank of soldiers is a group standing side by side in a row, and a file of soldiers is a group standing behind one another in another row. Line them up both ways and you have a formation.

An early part of basic training is learning to identify all the insignia and badges

Stripes on the sleeve mean certain things. The more you have, the higher you are in rank. The officers use bars, stars, leaves and eagles to show you just how high up they are. During boot camp, you are taught to formally come to attention and salute all who outrank you. When you’re new, intimidated, bullied and abused, that’s everybody.

Years later, I returned to the site of my basic training

I was there to attend a Department of Defense school for the training I needed so I could be sent to Vietnam to teach English to fighter pilots. As we walked around the base between classes and meals, boot after boot would snap to a salute when he saw the sergeant stripes on my sleeve.

It isn’t until you leave boot camp that you learn you only have to salute officers

In the army, if you disobey any order of anyone who outranks you, you are punished. This is how they keep order. Within a hundred years rank came to mean a social division of persons within a group.

Surveys sometimes ask you to rank things and other times ask you to rate them 

When the survey you take asks you to use a scale to rate a list of things one by one, they’re asking for ratings. The scales they use vary widely for many different reasons. The most common (and the most grossly inefficient one) asks you to rate things from 1 to 10. A restaurant survey might ask you to rate speed of service, cleanliness, value, menu choices and so on. The differences between the ratings gives us lots of good information and we can even rank them ourselves.

Rankings ask you to do more work

Rather than considering things independently of each other, ranking questions ask you to consider all the attributes at once and then place them in order from first to last or high to low. This is asking you to do effortful mental work and forcing you to make distinctions even when there are none. 

The results are artificial and contrived

Most marketers and researchers don’t know this. Even more don’t care. The two big reasons for using rankings are both bad ones.

  1. The data processing and analytics can be done by children (1st, 2nd, 3rd…)
  2. “We’ve always done it that way.”
The kid-level statistics put things into a line that assumes too many things that aren’t so

The bad data produced by asking people to rank things are one big reason so many businesses don’t know anywhere nearly as much about their customers, categories and competitors as they think they do.


To be henpecked is to be persistently plagued, browbeaten and bullied by a nagging, overbearing wife or girlfriend. If the word was supposed to apply to women, it would be roosterpecked. We all know men who are henpecked and some of us know that’s how some of them like it.

Hunt and peck

No, not the names of two Hollywood actors, Marsha and Gregory. Back in the early days of typewriters, a standardized keyboard layout was chosen. Had the letters on the keys been in alphabetical order, anyone could easily find a letter, but they’re not on what is called a QWERTY keyboard. Skilled typists know where each key is by touch and don’t have to look at the keyboard any more than a talented pianist has to look for every key.  

The hunt-and-peck method

This is the typing technique used by someone who does not know where to find the letters on a standard keyboard and has to hunt for them, one by one. Those who can only handle one letter at a time use one finger to peck on the key and then hunt for the next.

Today’s handheld devices have miniature keyboards that don’t have enough room to use all 10 fingers to type and so users have regressed to pecking even after they’ve learned the keyboard layout. Because most smartphone typing involves holding the keyboard in your hands, the index fingers are rarely used to type and so people use their thumbs instead. This explains in part why texters write in code and use so many emojis.

The name we gave to this typing style in the 1990s is chipmunking

Just like hunting and pecking, it’s inefficient, tiring and less accurate. To make matters worse, our opposable thumbs are meant for grasping things, not tapping them. This repetitive misuse of the thumb’s design is causing many stress injuries where there were once none.

Here’s a correlation to keep in mind next time you buy a new keyboard phone

Smaller smartphones usually damage our thumbs while larger ones and tablets cause pain and harm to our pinky fingers and wrists. Some doctors consider this type of injury and damage is as severe as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers

Peter Piper’s peck is a unit of dry measurement, usually two gallons. Pecks are baskets made of woven hardwood slats that coincidentally enough, hold one peck of peppers, apples and produce of all sorts. It takes four pecks to make a bushel of the kind some people hide their lights under.

A pecking order exists when people know their place

One of the modern ways humans try to raise their status in social hierarchies is to display luxury goods with insignia. These decorations take the form of branded clothing, watches, jewelry, shoes, handbags, luggage, smartphones, sunglasses, luggage, automobiles and more. What all these things have in common is that the best status symbols are portable, because if you leave your assets at home or in the bank, few people will see them and in turn, fewer people will think of you as higher than them in the pecking order.


Dogs are pack animals that understand hierarchies. The real reason most dogs behave badly is the owners have failed to establish themselves as the pack leader. Most dogs see their owners as creatures that feed them and sometime play with them. They don’t see their owners as dominant so they don’t obey them.

The next time you see a dog tugging at a leash, barking, lunging and snapping at other dogs, ignoring commands, and eating from the table, you know the dog outranks the human in that pecking order. Of course, the people who need advice about how to be the pack leader their dog listens to are those who almost never solicit it and rarely take it, even when it is readily available, like it is with the Dog Whisperer. 

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.