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The NYT crossword on 10/29/2005 had the clue 'front' for 34 across. The answer turned out to be VAN. Can someone explain the logic behind that to me?

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    $\begingroup$ There is not much to this. Another definition of the word "van" is "front", as in the van of the army $\endgroup$
    – hexomino
    Oct 25, 2023 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ ...from which the word vanguard came. $\endgroup$ Oct 25, 2023 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @WeatherVane I would think it's the other way around; that vanguard came first (from French avant garde) and from that came the shortening van. $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2023 at 7:39

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While the question might be more relevant to Puzzling Stack Exchange, the answer might be more relevant to English Stack Exchange!

The "van" which OP is familiar with (& which is more common) is a transport vehicle which was derived though the shortening of "caravan" which was derived from Latin "caravana" which in turn was derived from Persian "qairawan" & Arabic "karwan". That is the point of confusion over the puzzle solution.

The "van" in the NYT Crossword (& which is less common) is about "forefront" of army units or latest artistic movements etc. It is a shortening of "vanguard" deriving from anglo-french "avant-garde" which is the "front guard", or more generally, the "front section".

In Crossword puzzles, we might know a few letters (say "v" & "n") & we have to insert a new word to match the letters. In that case, we have to use the best match (which is "van" here) where the commonality or rarity will not matter.

reference:

https://www.etymonline.com/word/VAN
https://www.wordwebonline.com/en/VAN
https://www.wordwebonline.com/en/AVANTGARDE
https://www.wordwebonline.com/en/VANGUARD
https://www.wordwebonline.com/en/CARAVAN

EDITORIAL COMMENT:
This question has been "answered" via comments by at least 3 users.
I wanted to get this question out of an "unanswered state" & add a couple of corrections & clarifications which were not there in the comments.

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