from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A formation of troops in which each unit is positioned successively to the left or right of the rear unit to form an oblique or steplike line.
  • noun A flight formation or arrangement of craft in this manner.
  • noun A similar formation of groups, units, or individuals.
  • noun A subdivision of a military or naval force.
  • noun A level of responsibility or authority in a hierarchy; a rank.
  • noun Physics A special form of diffraction grating that resembles a flight of stairs of equal heights and equal widths.
  • transitive & intransitive verb To arrange or take place in an echelon.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To form in echelon.
  • noun A step-like arrangement or order; specifically, a military disposition of troops of such a nature that each division, brigade, regiment, company, or other body occupies a position parallel to, but not in the same alinement with, that in front, thus presenting the appearance of steps, and capable of being formed into one line by moving each of the less advanced divisions, etc., forward until they all aline.
  • noun Milit., one of the subdivisions of a command marching in echelon.
  • noun In optics, a set of glass plates placed one upon another, with the edge of each projecting slightly, stepwise, beyond the edge of the preceding one. The device, which is due to A. A. Michelson, is used for the production of diffraction spectra of high dispersion and resolving power.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Mil.) An arrangement of a body of troops when its divisions are drawn up in parallel lines each to the right or the left of the one in advance of it, like the steps of a ladder in position for climbing. Also used adjectively.
  • noun (Naval) An arrangement of a fleet in a wedge or V form.
  • noun (Optics) a large lens constructed in several parts or layers, extending in a succession of annular rings beyond the central lens; -- used in lighthouses.
  • intransitive verb To take position in echelon.
  • transitive verb (Mil.) To place in echelon; to station divisions of troops in echelon.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A level or rank in an organization, profession, or society.
  • noun military A formation of troops, ships, etc. in diagonal parallel rows.
  • verb To form troops into an echelon.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a diffraction grating consisting of a pile of plates of equal thickness arranged stepwise with a constant offset
  • noun a body of troops arranged in a line


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French échelon, from Old French eschelon, rung of a ladder, from eschiele, ladder, from Late Latin scāla, back-formation from Latin scālae, steps, ladder; see skand- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

French échelon, from échelle ("ladder").


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  • Even if the upper echelon is motivated to try to keep the shop clean, a police union operates in the opposite direction: its job, of course, is to defend its members, no matter how discreditable their conduct, and police associations have done a spectacular job of it.

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  • I remained there, placing the boats which I had brought up with me, containing Bashi-Bazouks under command of Yahia Bey, who is an excellent officer, in echelon across the stream, in which position they could command a very considerable length of the ford, which extends for about a mile, and support one another in case of an attempt at a forced passage.

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  • * Note: the name echelon itself refers to a "signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network."


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  • I figured if they were auditioning the likes of me, the guy playing the dad was probably of the same echelon, that is, a nearbody nearly nobody.

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  • In order, as it would seem, to keep a fighting formation that would impose respect on the bands of Dervishes on the Kerreri Hills, he adopted the formation known as echelon of brigades from the left.

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  • It clearly shows the culpability of the next command echelon, which is just as great as that of the pilots.

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    November 27, 2008

  • I knew a jerk who would use this word whenever he meant to elevate something's worth. Completely ruined it for me.

    July 15, 2009

  • and that the cartels’ wealth, intimidation, and influence extend to the highest echelons of law enforcement and government.

    December 8, 2010