The word sabotage has origins so strange it's as if somebody sabotaged its etymology. As it traces back to the French verb saboter, the meaning gets less and less intentionally malicious, until it finally just meant "to mess up". And before that? It was spelled sabot, and meant "wooden shoes"! This change occurred because people with wooden shoes were often clumsier than normal and caused workplace accidents (later, of course, the "workplace accidents" definition became deliberate, but that's not much of a change. The linguistics also get interesting here, because sabot may have Turkish origins (etymologists think the Ottoman word zabata). We're not sure, but it definitely shares a root with Spanish zapato, Italian ciabatta, and words meaning "shoe" in Middle Eastern languages. It doesn't seem Indo-European.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.