Literally: rank – stair / story – meritorious deed – quality / (first) class
Alternately: Court rank; honors; accolades. Decorations and rank awarded by the government in return for achievement or service. 位階 refers to ranks within the imperial bureaucracy under the Ritsuryou system, and 勲等 refers to ranks and titles awarded for meritorious service. The Ritsuryou system included an equivalent, known as 勲位 (kun’i), but modern 勲等 awards seem to have been introduced in 1875 and then, in 2003, all eliminated except for the Order of the Chrysanthemum, originally the highest order of twelve.
Notes: This week’s selection is a deliberately anachronistic continuation of the “alphabetical” order (actually 五十音 order) theme I’ve been following since late January. It turns out that while modern collections of yojijukugo end with わ, that it is possible to hunt down entries for ゐ, ゑ, and を. (There is no “wu,” though.) For today’s post, I discovered that the character 位 is ゐ in classical orthography, and after that it was simple to find a compound that begins with it.
The etymological pedigree is of sufficient antiquity to support the ゐ reading as well. 位階 were instituted in 603ce.