VAN, an homonymous word, whose different meanings have no etymological connexion. In the most common sense " van " is merely an abbreviation of the Oriental word " caravan " (q.v.), and is applied to any large covered cart or vehicle used for the conveyance of goods, especially furniture, or, on railways, to a closed carriage for passengers' luggage, or for the accommodation of the guard. In the sense of the front portion of an army or fleet, or the advanced portion of any body, actually or metaphorically, " van " represents the French avant (Lat. ab ante), in front, as in avant-garde, van-guard, the earliest form in which the word came into English. Lastly, the word is used as a variant of " fan " (Lat. vannus), for a contrivance for winnowing grain, for a bird's wing, and in mining to an appliance for separating ore by washing.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)