name given to several types of Mediterranean vessels; typically a small type of ship used by the Spanish and Portuguese in 15c. and 16c. for long voyages (Columbus's two smaller ships were caravels), 1520s, from French caravelle (15c.), from Spanish carabela or Portuguese caravela, diminutive of caravo "small vessel," from Late Latin carabus "small wicker boat covered with leather," from Greek karabos, literally "beetle, lobster" (see scarab). Earlier form carvel (early 15c.) survives in carvel-built (adj.).