Sabotage comes from wooden shoes, but not the way you’ve heard

I was delighted when Star Trek informed me that French workers once threw their wooden shows, called sabos, into new machinery to stop mechanization – hence the word sabotage.

But is the tale a language myth?

Grammarphobia says the word “didn’t originate in the practice of workers tossing their sabots into machinery to botch up the works. In fact, there’s no evidence that any sabots were ever tossed into any machinery.” The word first appeared in an anarchist report sent to the 1897 congress of the Confédération Générale du Travail in Toulouse. The report advocated work slowdowns and used the word because “it has long been the custom to liken the slow and clumsy worker to one wearing wooden shoes, called ‘sabots.’ ”

Word Detective agrees.

Star Trek! How could you let me down?

This entry was posted in Expressions by Ponderer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *