from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A hierarchy among a group, as of people, classes, or nations: "The astronauts had developed a pecking order that was military in its rigidity” ( Tom Wolfe).
- n. The social hierarchy in a flock of domestic fowl in which each bird pecks subordinate birds and submits to being pecked by dominant birds.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. The usually informal hierarchy of authority or command, often partial or approximate, as determined by the especially natural propensity for domination of different members of a specific group over each other, such as older brothers and sisters over their younger siblings.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. the organization of people at different ranks in an administrative body
Sorry, no etymologies found.
I’m probably not unique in making this mistake, but in modern American middle-class experience one hears the term pecking order and one reflexively locates oneself right smack, well, in the middle.