ech·​e·​lon | \ ˈe-shə-ˌlän How to pronounce echelon (audio) \

Definition of echelon

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a(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
2a : 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


echeloned; echeloning; echelons

Definition of echelon (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to form or arrange in an echelon

intransitive verb

: to take position in an echelon

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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.

Examples of echelon in a Sentence


the lower echelons of the bureaucracy We heard stories of corruption in the upper echelons of the firm.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The real Eli Cohen spent four extremely productive years in the Syrian capital of Damascus, and each episode of The Spy leaps ahead in time as Kamel ingratiates himself further into the upper echelons of Syrian political and military society. Kristen Baldwin,, "Sacha Baron Cohen puts his subterfuge skills to good use in Netflix's The Spy," 5 Sep. 2019 The Gray Panthers proudly identify as a militant — though nonviolent — group, forcing their way into the upper echelons of U.S. political power and demanding action. Teen Vogue, "Who Was Maggie Kuhn, Co-Founder of the Elder Activist Group the Gray Panthers?," 2 Aug. 2019 Performers are booked into this intimate space from the upper echelons of the talent pool, which means something in Detroit (20510 Livernois Ave., Matthew Kronsberg, WSJ, "A Fascinating Long Weekend in Detroit: The Essential Guide," 19 June 2019 The announcement injects uncertainty into the highest echelon of the national security system at a time of escalating tensions with Iran that have left the Pentagon preparing for a possible military confrontation. Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY, "Trump says he will replace acting defense chief Patrick Shanahan," 18 June 2019 Rodriguez, the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft, pitched in the All-Star Futures Game and catapulted himself into the upper echelon of minor-league pitching prospects. Jon Meoli,, "Orioles’ Rutschman, Rodriguez connect at Delmarva: ‘You’re looking at, potentially, the future of the organization’," 25 Aug. 2019 After dressing the Cleveland Cavaliers and FC Barcelona—both professional teams of the highest echelon—and releasing a tennis capsule collection last year, the designer is launching a golf line for Resort. Steff Yotka, Vogue, "Thom Browne’s New Golf Capsule Collection Is a Stroke Above the Rest," 30 Oct. 2018 The world may have changed, but within this cross-section of the upper echelons of religion, finance, and culture, things don’t appear much different. Connie Wang,, "The Met Got The Catholic Fashion Story Wrong," 7 May 2018 Calvin and Donna left their namesake companies long ago, and the luxurious upper echelons of the brands have been shuttered. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, "Where are the new great American fashion brands? Marc Jacobs is wonderful but not enough.," 12 Sep. 2019

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.

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First Known Use of echelon


1796, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


circa 1860, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for echelon


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

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Statistics for echelon

Last Updated

17 Oct 2019

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Time Traveler for echelon

The first known use of echelon was in 1796

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English Language Learners Definition of echelon

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on echelon

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with echelon

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for echelon

Spanish Central: Translation of echelon

Nglish: Translation of echelon for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of echelon for Arabic Speakers

Comments on echelon

What made you want to look up echelon? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to wander slowly or to speak indistinctly

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