Monday, June 29, 2009


Sabotage (n/v) - The destruction of property to hinder operations. From the French word sabot (shoe) with the Latin suffix -age (the act of). So, literally, sabotage means the act of shoes. There are many stories as to the origin of the word.
  • That it dates to a 1910 French railway strike where the workers destroyed the wooden ties, called shoes or sabots. This is certainly not true as the word in English predates that strike by 35 years and the word had been in the French language even longer.
  • Another is that it dates to the Industrial Revolution when newly out of work hand weavers would throw their wooden shoes into the mechanical looms, thus breaking them. Alternatively, wooden shoed serfs deliberately stomped fields to punish landowners. The former is a commonly accepted origin, and the one I prefer, but many etymologists dismiss it because....
  • In French the word sabotage had an early meaning of bungling or botching something. Etymologists theorize that the original use of the word in French was to describe uneducated country bumpkins who were hired to work in early industrial workshops. They would clatter in wearing their wooden clogs (as opposed to the leather shoes city dwellers wore) and make a total hash of the job. The act of shoes meant the ignorant destruction caused by rubes who just happen to wear wooden shoes.
  • Or, the least interesting possible origin, that sabotage began merely meaning the ugly noise that wooden shoes make. It evolved to mean badly played music and evolved further to anything that was botched up. Its final evolution was to mean deliberately botching up something.
The picture is from a CIA sabotage manual distributed in Nicaragua in the 1980's.

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