- a level of command, authority, or rank: After years of service, she is now in the upper echelon of city officials.
- a level of worthiness, achievement, or reputation: studying hard to get into one of the top echelon colleges.
- 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.
- to form in an echelon.
Origin of echelon
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 book series.
- "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)
Examples from the Web for echelon
The view may look bright at the top GOP echelon, but that does not appear to be the attitude of the rank and file.Why the GOP Should Panic
November 7, 2011
The echelon below were 18-year-old Olders, overseeing Babies and Tinies as young as 10 in the final rung.A Tinderbox Waiting for a Match
August 11, 2011
I think Tina is the first woman who has gotten into that echelon.TV's Funniest New Moms
March 24, 2009
Across the broad plain the whole of the brigade was in echelon.The Story of the Malakand Field Force
Sir Winston S. Churchill
I tried the echelon, the 'general advanced,' then the 'give away' and 'flank' movements.The Arena
All egress is stopped by the Allies' echelon formation, except by Aleppo.World's War Events, Vol. II
The formation was in echelon by the right, with unequal intervals.King Robert the Bruce
A. F. Murison
The advance was made by the two brigades in squares marching in echelon.The Egyptian campaigns, 1882 to 1885
- a level of command, responsibility, etc (esp in the phrase the upper echelons)
- a formation in which units follow one another but are offset sufficiently to allow each unit a line of fire ahead
- a group formed in this way
- physics a type of diffraction grating used in spectroscopy consisting of a series of plates of equal thickness arranged stepwise with a constant offset
- to assemble in echelon
Word Origin and History for echelon
1796, "step-like arrangement of troops," from French échelon "level, echelon," literally "rung of a ladder," from Old French eschelon, from eschiele "ladder," from Late Latin scala "stair, slope," from Latin scalae (plural) "ladder, steps," from PIE *skand- "to spring, leap" (see scan). Sense of "level, subdivision" is from World War I.