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late 14c., "path, track, course of action," introduced by the Hanse merchants, from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German trade "track, course" (probably originally of a trading ship), cognate with Old English tredan (see tread). Sense of "one's habitual business" (1540s) developed from the notion of "way, course, manner of life" (mid-15c.); sense of "buying and selling" is first recorded 1550s. Trade wind (1640s) has nothing to do with commerce, but preserves the obsolete sense of "in a habitual or regular course." Trade union is attested from 1831.
1540s, "to tread a path," from trade (n.). Meaning "to occupy oneself (in something)" is recorded from c.1600. The U.S. sports team sense of "to exchange one player for another" is attested from 1899. Related: Traded; trading. To trade down is attested from 1942. Trade-in in reference to used cars is recorded from 1917. Trading post is recorded from 1796.
Business or commerce; economic activity.