Concerning "to trade", I saw on Etymonline:


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 ship), cognate with Old English tredan (see tread (v.)).

Sense of "one's habitual business" (1540s) developed from the notion of "way, course, manner of life" (mid-15c.); sense of "buying and selling, exchange of commodities" is from 1550s. Meaning "act of trading" is from 1829. Trade-name is from 1821; trade-route is from 1873; trade-war is from 1899. Trade union is attested from 1831. Trade wind (1640s) has nothing to do with commerce, but preserves the obsolete sense of "in a habitual or regular course

As etymology is not really an exact science, and it's made of deductions about old forms evolutions and even, and from intuitions or suppositions, I think another possible etymology would be from the Latin tradere.

It would make more sense, as the meanings are very close, and it would seem more logical to me.

One it could be the existence of old French forms, eventually (but their absence is not an infirmation neither).
Other clues can be the old English forms.

Is there some sources or clues about this possible alternative etymology?

If it's a Latin one, I have no idea how it entered the English language, as I didn't find cognate in Romance languages for this term (But I maybe be wrong).

  • 1
    One assumes that the more prestigious references on etymologies (I think @John Lawler has a preferred authority) have tried to address all reasonable possibilities, not mentioning those considered below a certain probability. M-W and Wiktionary only mention the same source as Etymon; what other sources [different subsense!) have you tried? Nov 16, 2019 at 11:27
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    I didn't find any sources to support the altenative. But I found one which explicitly dismissed it and gives futher details on the etymology..
    – S Conroy
    Nov 16, 2019 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


I would suggest that the etymology related to Latin trādĕre is unlikely because of how the word trade developed within the English language and its more immediate precursors.

Trādĕre translates roughly as

To hand over, surrender

On the other hand, the earliest definitions of trade as used in English relate not to the exchange of goods, but to paths and routes, either across physical space or through one's "path in life," and later developed into denoting the act of exchanging.

The earliest branch and definition in the OED are:

A. n.

I. A path, course, way of life, and related senses.


a. The track or trail left by a person or animal; footprints; = tread n. 2. Obsolete.

An early example of this obsolete sense is a citation from approximately 1450.

He [foloud] ever the tradde.

  • a1450 Sir Gowther (Royal) (1886) l. 570 (MED)

Since this earlier meaning of "trade" is quite disparate from the Latin meaning of "tradere," it is unlikely that "tradere" played a direct role in the formation of "trade," although the OED lists it in etymologies for other English words like extradition, betray, and traitor.

Later, trade came to mean "an area of work," as in "stone masonry is my trade." The earliest verb form was a transitive verb that meant to teach someone a trade.

Domitius Corbulo, with two legions, and a very smal nomber of such as came to ayde hym, traded in the discipline of warre [L. disciplina correcta], withstode the great power of the Parthians.

  • 1593 - R. Morison tr. Frontinus Strategemes & Policies Warre iv. ii. sig. M

Later the verb form meant "to make your way" or traverse a path, following a similar evolution to the noun.

Not until definition 6.a. does the OED denote "trade" meaning potentially a commercial transaction. Note the reference to participating in an exchange occurring "later" (emphasis mine).

  1. a. To engage in business, commercial transactions, etc. (with a person, in a commodity); to buy and sell; (later also) to participate in an exchange.

Most example citations do not explicitly refer to bartering but just doing business more generally.

Those who remained in the canoes traded with our people very fairly.

  • 1773 - J. Hawkesworth Acct. Voy. Southern Hemisphere II. ii. ii. 311

The sense referring to commerce is a semantic drift from "trade" meaning an occupation or area of work. If you work in the cotton trade, then you may "trade in cotton" with business partners. Only from here did the notion of exchanging develop, bringing the meaning closer in sense to Latin tradere's "to hand over".

  • An important derivative of trado is missing here, namely tradition which is much closer to OED's trade A1. Moreover, as "Latin" spans over a millenium, most of which in a time when English is not existant, but when contact and even trade inarguably already had happened with Germanic and Celtic tribes (e.g. Caeser making treaties with certain tribes in Bello Galico), much earlier than trade is even attested, whereas Germanic cognates to trade are not named, the conclusion is unfounded, that trado had played no role.
    – vectory
    Feb 15, 2020 at 14:07

Sorry guys, i was looking for the same question and I appreciate to find this post! I try to put another suggestions between the words street and strada [lat. stratum], and road and "R" in sanscrit language, movement. Trado -ere in latin derives from trans-do [do,das,dedi,datum,dare] give beyond... But the true root in many cases is sanscrit or indo-European.

The Indo-European root tṛ / tṝ "to cross", "to go beyond", especially in the collateral forms tar, ter, tra (ita), also "trans" it covers a very large semantic area in Latin and Greek and develops in the sense of "trapassare" (ita) "passing away making a hole ", that is" piercing ";" piercing the skin ", that is" wounding ";" piercing with an object pointed ", that is" to drill ";" to perform an action that indicates a moral transition ", that is" to betray ";" to make pass the meaning of words from one language to another "ie" translate ", etc.

With the meaning of "move [] from one point to act on another point [t]", tṛ and tṛ became the forms suffixals –tṛ and –tṛ, which in Indo-European and Sanskrit indicate the completion of an action. These forms were transcribed in Greek with -tōr (the author of an act) and with -tēr (the agent of a function); and in Latin with -ter and with -tor, which ended up taking on both functions.

like ac'tor => the au't(h)or of an act

So, in end, I think is not so wrong thinking the words "trade" and trado latin are similar, and it doesn't exclude the most and less recent uses of trade as "track". The common root is tr indo-european fonema, both for trade and trado.

But I hope someone could help me to better understand because these are only personal deductions.

I use this: https://www.academia.edu/35956659/Franco_Rendich_Dizionario_etimologico_comparato_di_Indoeuropeo_Sanscrito_Greco_Latino

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    Hi Roberto. That's quite an interesting post, however it looks like you want to ask a new question? If that's the case, please use the "Ask Question" button at the top of the page, and ask your question there, referring back to this question with a link. Feb 14, 2020 at 13:36
  • @RobertoMelloni basically points out that trado and trade do appear to be related but that the connection is so old that it is difficult to see how they relate exactly. Severely, trado, and trade don't seem to be direct cognates, because Latin d and English d don't usually correspond (e.g. dent ~ tooth, etc.). Instead Ita. strada < Lat. stratum should be compared. This is reasonable insofar the senses match better, while s-mobile is poorly understood, but t ~ d don't match any better (e.g. facio ~ do). I'm not too firm with the sound laws, and happy for corrections.
    – vectory
    Feb 15, 2020 at 13:51
  • Although some alternations between the different dental stops is observed as reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European precisely in the instrumental suffixes that were mentioned. An interesting picture appears if looking at the roots. strata "paved road" is supposed participle from sterno, from *sterH- "stretch, extend"; stretch in turn is but from *streg- "stiff, rigid" (per good old Pokorny), cp Ger strecken. Say what? Indeed, there is no acceptable answer in the usual sources, so a socratic counter question is the best answer you can get.
    – vectory
    Feb 15, 2020 at 13:57

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