noun ech·e·lon \ ˈe-shə-ˌlän \
|Updated on: 8 Aug 2018

Definition of echelon

1 a (1) : an arrangement of a body of troops with its units each somewhat to the left or right of the one in the rear like a series of steps
(2) : a formation of units or individuals resembling such an echelon
  • geese flying in echelon
(3) : a flight formation in which each airplane flies at a certain elevation above or below and at a certain distance behind and to the right or left of the airplane ahead
b : any of several military units in echelon formation; also : any unit or group acting in a disciplined or organized manner
  • served in a combat echelon
2 a : one of a series of levels or grades in an organization or field of activity
  • involved employees at every echelon
b : a group of individuals at a particular level or grade in an organization or field of activity
  • the upper echelons of management

echelon was our Word of the Day on 11/03/2016. Hear the podcast!

Examples of echelon in a Sentence

  1. the lower echelons of the bureaucracy

  2. We heard stories of corruption in the upper echelons of the firm.

Recent Examples of echelon from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'echelon.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Did You Know?

Echelon is a useful word for anyone who is climbing the ladder of success. It traces back to scala, a Late Latin word meaning "ladder" that was the ancestor of the Old French eschelon, meaning "rung of a ladder." Over time, the French word (which is échelon in Modern French) came to mean "step," "grade," or "level." When it was first borrowed into English in the 18th century, echelon referred specifically to a steplike arrangement of troops, but it now usually refers to a level or category within an organization or group of people.

Origin and Etymology of echelon

French échelon, literally, rung of a ladder, from Old French eschelon, from eschele ladder, from Late Latin scala




Definition of echelon

echeloned; echeloning; echelons
: to form or arrange in an echelon
: to take position in an echelon

First Known Use of echelon

circa 1860

in the meaning defined at transitive sense

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ECHELON Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of echelon for English Language Learners

  • : a level in an organization : a level of authority or responsibility

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having an air of easy unconcern

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