a level of command, authority, or rank:
After years of service, she is now in the upper echelon of city officials.
Synonyms: place, rank, hierarchy, authority, grade, office; row, tier, rung; social standing, position, class, standing.
a level of worthiness, achievement, or reputation:
studying hard to get into one of the top echelon colleges.
Synonyms: degree, position, tier.
Military. a formation of troops, ships, airplanes, etc., in which groups of soldiers or individual vehicles or craft are arranged in parallel lines, either with each line extending to the right of the one in front (right echelon) or with each line extending to the left of the one in front (left echelon) so that the whole presents the appearance of steps.
Military. one of the groups of a formation so arranged.
Archaic. any structure or group of structures arranged in a steplike form.
Also called echelon grating. Spectroscopy. a diffraction grating that is used in the resolution of fine structure lines and consists of a series of plates of equal thickness stacked in staircase fashion.
< French échelon,
orig. rung of a ladder, Old French eschelon,
equivalent to esch
ladder (< Latin scāla;
) + -on
comes from the French échelon,
a word whose literal meaning is “rung of a ladder.” Initially it was confined to military use, to refer to a step-like formation of troops.
Ironically, while echelon
entered English in a military context, it was the first and second World Wars that extended the meaning to other, nonmilitary, sectors. During World War I, the term took on a more generalized sense of a “level” or “subdivision”; World War II broadened echelon’s
usage to describe grades and ranks in professions outside the military.
At the same time, English speakers started using echelon
to classify institutions or persons they held in high esteem by referring to them as part of the “upper” or “top” echelon. With this in mind, the phrase “social climber” conjures up the image of people who wish to ascend through the various ladder rungs of society until they reach the top.
—Row echelon form: In linear algebra, a simplified form of a matrix in which each non-zero row has more leading zeros than the previous row.
—ECHELON: Code name of a global surveillance system developed by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). It operates by intercepting and processing international communications transmitted via communications satellites.
—Third Echelon: A fictional sub-group of the NSA created by Tom Clancy in his Splinter Cell
“Beyond [the city] were the suburban homes of laborers and low-echelon executives who had carved brass-knuckled niches for themselves in the medium-income bracket.“
—Irving E. Cox, Jr., The Cartels Jungle (1955)
“If a CEO wavers and shows signs of not being confident of which way he wants to go, it sends shudders from the top echelon all the way down the mountain.“
—D. A. Benton, How to think like a CEO (2000)
“[I]t is a monstrous leap from what [a master] can do to what the elite grandmasters (the Fischers and the Karpovs and the Kasparovs) can do, which is why even the top echelon of players often maintain a base of humility beneath their bluster.“
—Michael Weinreb, Game of Kings: A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Geniuses Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team (2007)
“By echelon we mean a formation in which the subdivisions are placed one behind another, extending beyond and unmasking one another either wholly or in part.“
—James Alfred Moss, Manual of Military Training (1914)
“[T]hey echeloned to the right around the hill, and the 1st Platoon fired into their flank for ten to fifteen minutes; however, they never slacked or broke formation.“
—William T. Bowers, The Line: Combat In Korea, January–February 1951, Volume 1 (2008)