Sabotage comes from the French saboter and ultimately from sabot. A sabot is a wooden shoe (it can also mean a type of anti-tank ammunition, but that’s another story). The French saboter means to make a noise with sabot, to tramp on, to destroy, especially a piece of music. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the French word began to be applied to the willful destruction of machinery in labor disputes. It is this sense that transferred to English. From the 11 November 1910 Church Times:
We have lately been busy in deploring the sabotage of the French railway strikers.
It is commonly suggested by some that this term for wanton destruction derives from striking workers throwing wooden shoes, or sabot, into machinery in order to destroy it. This belief was popularized when it was repeated in one of the Star Trek movies, but is not substantiated by the evidence. The word does indeed come from sabot, but the etymology is a bit more subtle.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton