An echelon is a stepped formation with objects arranged in a diagonal. Birds flying in a V shape create echelons so that they can draft behind each other and conserve energy — except for the guy up front, who’s super tired.

Echelon patterns are often used by the military, with rows of tanks, troops, or aircraft arranged behind and to the left or behind and to the right of the row ahead. Echelon can also refer to a particular level or rank in a group or society. If you win the Olympics, you’ve reached the upper echelon of athletics. If you win a hot dog eating contest . . . Well, you reached a pretty low echelon of athletics.

Definitions of echelon
  1. noun
    position in a social hierarchy
    synonyms: rank, social rank, social station, social status
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    place, station
    proper or designated social situation
    high social status
    a position particularly well suited to the person who occupies it
    type of:
    position, status
    the relative position or standing of things or especially persons in a society
  2. noun
    a body of troops arranged in a line
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    type of:
    force, military force, military group, military unit
    a unit that is part of some military service
  3. noun
    a diffraction grating consisting of a pile of plates of equal thickness arranged stepwise with a constant offset
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    type of:
    diffraction grating, grating
    optical device consisting of a surface with many parallel grooves in it; disperses a beam of light (or other electromagnetic radiation) into its wavelengths to produce its spectrum
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