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sabotage (n.)

1907 (from 1903 as a French word in English), from French sabotage, from saboter "to sabotage, bungle," literally "walk noisily," from sabot "wooden shoe" (13c.), altered (by association with Old French bot "boot") from earlier savate "old shoe," from the same source (perhaps Persian ciabat) that also produced similar words in Old Provençal, Portuguese, Spanish (zapata), Italian (ciabatta), Arabic (sabbat), and Basque (zapata).

In French, and at first in English, the sense of "deliberately and maliciously destroying property" originally was in reference to labor disputes, but the oft-repeated story (as old as the record of the word in English) that the modern meaning derives from strikers' supposed tactic of throwing shoes into machinery is not supported by the etymology. Likely it was not meant as a literal image; the word was used in French in a variety of "bungling" senses, such as "to play a piece of music badly." This, too, was the explanation given in some early usages.

SABOTAGE [chapter heading] The title we have prefixed seems to mean "scamping work." It is a device which, we are told, has been adopted by certain French workpeople as a substitute for striking. The workman, in other words, purposes to remain on and to do his work badly, so as to annoy his employer's customers and cause loss to his employer. [The Liberty Review, January 1907]
You may believe that sabotage is murder, and so forth, but it is not so at all. Sabotage means giving back to the bosses what they give to us. Sabotage consists in going slow with the process of production when the bosses go slow with the same process in regard to wages. [Arturo M. Giovannitti, quoted in report of the Sagamore Sociological Conference, June 1907]
In English, "malicious mischief" would appear to be the nearest explicit definition of "sabotage," which is so much more expressive as to be likely of adoption into all languages spoken by nations suffering from this new force in industry and morals. Sabotage has a flavor which is unmistakable even to persons knowing little slang and no French .... [Century Magazine, November 1910]
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sabotage (v.)
1912, from sabotage (n.). Related: Sabotaged; sabotaging.
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savate (n.)
French method of fighting with the feet, 1862, from French savate, literally "a kind of shoe" (see sabotage).
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saboteur (n.)
1912 (from 1909 as a French word in English), a borrowing of the French agent noun from sabotage (see sabotage (n.)).
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sabaton (n.)
type of armored foot-covering, also sabbaton, early 14c., ultimately from Provençal sabato, equivalent of French savate (see sabotage (n.)).
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ciabatta (n.)

type of Italian bread made with olive oil, c. 1990, from Italian ciabatta, literally "carpet slipper;" the bread so called for its shape; the Italian word is from the same source that produced French sabot, Spanish zapata (see sabotage (n.)). The bread itself is said to have been developed in the 1980s as an Italian version of the French baguette.

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