• sabotage •
Pronunciation: sæ-bê-tahzh • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Deliberate subversive action to undermine activities of an enemy, especially during wartime.
Notes: Today's Good Word is so fresh out of French that the agent noun, referring to a person undertaking sabotage, is still a saboteur [sæ-bê-tur], with the French accented suffix -eur. Sabotage itself may be used as a verb: to sabotage an arms factory.
In Play: Do not throw in machinery!Any attempt at interrupting a normal activity of someone you dislike is an act of sabotage: "Mandy Gunz sabotaged her neighbor's tea party by putting salt in all the sugar bowls." However, this word is far more often used in reference to sub rosa terrorist activities: "Someone sabotaged our local ice cream company, putting it out of service for a month and sending 32 people to the hospital suffering panic attacks."
Word History: Although the French word sabotage is based on the word sabot "wooden shoe", the meaning of today's word did not come from French workers throwing their shoes into new machinery during the Industrial Revolution. This is an urban myth of long standing. Sabotage is the noun from the verb saboter, which originally meant "to clatter like wooden shoes", but later came to mean "to botch, screw up (a piece of music)". The normal noun from saboter is sabotage. Sabot itself comes from the family that includes Spanish zapato "shoe", Portuguese sapato "shoe", and Italian ciabatta "slipper", now also a type of bread (not worn on the feet). Though the source of the original word is a mystery, it is more likely that Arabic borrowed its sabbat "sandal" from Spanish than vice versa. (We are in fact very grateful to Sue Gold of Westtown School, Westtown, Pennsylvania, for throwing this shoe word into the Good Word machinery.)