In nautical slang, the Submarine Service used to be referred to as ‘the Trade’. The Royal Navy launched its first submarine in 1901, but undersea warfare was not well regarded in all quarters. Admiral Arthur Wilson stated that ‘submariners are nothing more than tradesmen and submarines are underhand, unfair, and damned un-English.’ It is tempting to connect Wilson’s pejorative use of ‘tradesmen’, redolent with British classism, with this early slang term for the Submarine Service. Our current first evidence comes from a piece published by Rudyard Kipling in 1916:
No one knows how the title of ‘The Trade’ came to be applied to the Submarine Service.
1916 Rudyard Kipling in The Times 21 June, p. 6/1.
Kipling’s phrasing suggests that the term was already in widespread use: can you find earlier evidence that might shed light on its origin?
Posted by OED_Editor on 5 November 2014 16.08