It can mean a couple of different things depending upon how it is used.
One common usage is describing someone or something as "upper echelon," which means that it is of very high quality
level of an organization
ECHELON is a name used to describe a highly secretive world-wide signals intelligence and analysis network run by the UKUSA Community (comprised of intelligence agencies of five English-speaking nations), that has been reported by a number of sources including, in 2001, a committee of the European Parliament (EP report). According to some sources ECHELON can capture radio and satellite communications, telephone calls, faxes, e-mails and other data streams nearly anywhere in the world and includes computer automated analysis and sorting of intercepts. The EP committee, however, concluded that "the analysis carried out in the report has revealed that the technical capabilities of the system are probably not nearly as extensive as some sections of the media had assumed"
Originally was a military term, describing certain amount of troops to be relocated to the front line.
ech·e·lon /ˈɛʃəˌlɒn/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[esh-uh-lon] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
1. a level of command, authority, or rank: the top echelon of city officials.
2. a formation of troops, ships, airplanes, etc., in which groups of soldiers or individual vehicles or craft are arranged in parallel lines, each to the right or left of the one in front, so that the whole presents the appearance of steps.
3. one of the groups of a formation so arranged.
4. Also called echelon grating. Spectroscopy. a diffraction grating that is used in the resolution of fine structure lines and consists of a series of plates of equal thickness stacked in staircase fashion.
–verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
5. to form in an echelon.
[Origin: 1790–1800; < F échelon, orig. rung of a ladder, OF eschelon, equiv. to esch(i)ele ladder (< L scāla; see scale3) + -on n. suffix]
echelon ( ) n. A formation of troops in which each unit is positioned successively to the left or right of the rear unit to form an oblique or.
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