The term “trade winds” originally derive from the early fourteenth century late Middle English word “trade,” meaning “path” or “track.”
The captain of a sailing ship seeks a course along which the winds can be expected to blow in the direction of travel. During the Age of Sail, the pattern of prevailing winds made various points of the globe easy or difficult to access, and therefore had a direct effect on European empire-building and thus on modern political geography.
By the 18th century, the importance of the trade winds to England’s merchant fleet for crossing the Atlantic Ocean had led both the general public and etymologists to identify the name with a later meaning of “trade”: “(foreign) commerce”.
- By Kaidor – Own work based on File: NASA depiction of earth global atmospheric circulation.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23902538