1910, from Fr. sabotage, from saboter “to sabotage, bungle,” lit. “walk noisily,” from sabot “wooden shoe” (13c.), altered (by association with O. Fr. bot “boot”) from M. Fr. savate “old shoe,” from an unidentified source that also produced similar words in O. Prov., Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Basque. In French, the sense of “deliberately and maliciously destroying property” originally was in reference to labor disputes, but the oft-repeated story that the modern meaning derives from strikers’ supposed tactic of throwing old 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.” The verb is first attested 1918 in English, from the noun. Saboteur is 1921, a borrowing of the French agent noun. Related: Sabotaged; sabotaging.