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

Noun the lower echelons of the bureaucracy We heard stories of corruption in the upper echelons of the firm.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Misconduct and slippery lawyering at the upper echelon of the department created a permission structure for misbehavior all the way down the departmental hierarchy. Ankush Khardori, The New Republic, "How to De-Trumpify the Justice Department," 9 Nov. 2020 In hoops, outside of No. 1 Florida State, the rest of the top 5 - Villanova, Memphis, Baylor and DePaul - lags behind the upper-echelon in football recruiting rankings. oregonlive, "Oregon Ducks have nation’s No. 1 combined football, men’s basketball recruiting classes," 14 Oct. 2020 And once again, an early-season loss dragged the Longhorns out of the upper-echelon of college football programs. Dallas News, "Texas LB Cort Jaquess is living his dream as Longhorns head into Red River Showdown," 6 Oct. 2020 As in 2016, a justice’s death has catapulted the Supreme Court into the upper echelon of voting issues. Isaac Schorr, National Review, "What to Expect at Tonight’s Debate: One Pundit’s Predictions," 29 Sep. 2020 Why isn’t the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra considered in the upper echelon of coaches? Tania Ganguli, Los Angeles Times, "LeBron James on Erik Spoelstra: ‘It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t gotten his respect’," 29 Sep. 2020 Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper and Allie Quigley helped the Sky jump out to a 27-12 lead after one quarter, erasing any thought the Fever could develop into an upper-echelon team during the second half of the season. Akeem Glaspie, The Indianapolis Star, "Indiana Fever report card: Top performances, players, final grade from disappointing 2020," 17 Sep. 2020 That hasn’t stopped countless thousands of aspiring pros from trying to reach that upper echelon. Cecilia D'anastasio, Wired, "Shady Contracts, Raw Deals: Inside the Industry of Managing Video Game Stars," 14 Sep. 2020 Still, despite the uncertainty surrounding malls, the Ghermezians' properties are at the top echelon — and their lenders will likely not have much choice but to renegotiate, Egelanian said. Nicole Norfleet, Star Tribune, "Mall of America tries to return to normalcy as owners continue to struggle," 15 Aug. 2020

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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Time Traveler for echelon

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The first known use of echelon was in 1796

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Last Updated

15 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Echelon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for echelon


How to pronounce echelon (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of echelon

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

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