Tradecraft refers to the often sneaky work of spies. Slapping a tracking device onto a briefcase, breaking into the upstairs offices of an embassy to rifle through file cabinets while posing as a socialite at a party: these are examples of the tradecraft that spies are taught to do.

Tradecraft is an old word that used to refer to the work, or craft, of any profession, or trade. It likely acquired its specific association with spy work during World War II, though it is a word most heavily associated with the Cold War. Some believe this association is entirely due to its appearance in the novels of John le Carré, prompting some fans to wonder if le Carré in fact coined it. Did it then slip into intelligence circles as an example of life imitating art? Le Carré denies this story, saying he heard the term while serving in the British Secret Service in the 1950s.

Definitions of tradecraft
  1. noun
    skill acquired through experience in a trade; often used to discuss skill in espionage
    “instructional designers are trained in something that might be called tradecraft
    “the CIA chief of station accepted responsibility for his agents' failures of tradecraft
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    type of:
    craft, craftsmanship, workmanship
    skill in an occupation or trade
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DISCLAIMER: These example sentences appear in various news sources and books to reflect the usage of the word ‘tradecraft'. Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of or its editors. Send us feedback
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For "The Americans" Season Opener, Get Your "Tradecraft" On

Though many believe tradecraft to be a term invented by John le Carré, it's been in use by spies since the 1950s at least.

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