The word caravan (which we've been seeing a lot in the media lately) meaning "group of travelers" was borrowed in the late sixteenth century from the Middle French word caravane, with the same meaning. In Old French, this spelling alternated with that of carevane, and, even further back, it was caravana in Medieval Latin. This was picked up during the Crusades from Arabic qairawan, and we can trace the through the Moors to North Africa to the Middle East to Persia, where it was karwan, which specifically referred to groups that traversed deserts. Etymology gets sketchy right around here, but karwan might metonymically come from Sanskrit karabhah, which meant "camel". Let's fast forward back to the present again: in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, caravan can also refer to a vehicular trailer or RV, and the first attestation of the word meaning "covered trailer" was in the 1670s, under a connection of Roma individuals traveling in groups with those wagons. Despite a similarity in meaning and spelling to the word van, there is no connection.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.