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.