[ esh-uh-lon ]
/ ˈɛʃ əˌlɒn /
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See synonyms for: echelon / echelons on Thesaurus.com

Definition of echelon

verb (used with or without object)
to form in an echelon.
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Origin of echelon

First recorded in 1790–1800; from French échelon, originally “rung of a ladder,” from Old French eschelon, equivalent to esch(i)ele “ladder” (from Latin scāla + -on noun suffix; see scale3)

historical usage of echelon

Echelon 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.

popular references for echelon

—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.


ech·e·lon·ment, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

How to use echelon in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for echelon

/ (ˈɛʃəˌlɒn) /

a level of command, responsibility, etc (esp in the phrase the upper echelons)
  1. a formation in which units follow one another but are offset sufficiently to allow each unit a line of fire ahead
  2. 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 for echelon

C18: from French échelon, literally: rung of a ladder, from Old French eschiele ladder, from Latin scāla; see scale ³
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012