Word of the Day


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1. (British) a vehicle that people can live and travel in on holiday

2. a group of people and vehicles travelling together, especially in a desert

Origin and usage

The word caravan was first used in English at the end of the 16th century with the second meaning above. It derives from the Persian word ‘kārwān’ although it may have obtained its current form later on from the French ‘caravane’. Originally referring specifically to a group of merchants or pilgrims travelling together for security, especially through a desert, caravan started to be used more loosely towards the end of the 17th century to refer to any group of people moving together. The most common current meaning of caravan, a covered vehicle  that can be lived in, either towed or stationary, dates from the 19th century. The usual American word for this is ‘trailer’.


For the first 70 years of its use in English, caravan referred to merchants or pilgrims travelling together, with their goods carried by camels. In the mid 18th century the term was used in the US to refer to groups of travellers, traders or emigrants travelling through the Western states with their horses and wagons. In the late 17th century, meanwhile, the term caravan started to be used not just for the travellers but for the covered vehicles they travelled in. It was this meaning of caravan that gradually transformed into a term used for a vehicle used by Romany travellers or travelling showmen, eventually coming to mean the towed vehicle we are familiar with today.


“Time, you old gypsy man, Will you not stay, Put up your caravan Just for one day?”
(Ralph Hodgson)

“I’ve never stayed in a tent or a caravan in my life… I don’t see the point of going on holiday to enjoy less comfort than I have at home.”
(Terry Wogan)

Related words

chain, column, procession, train

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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