- In the Netherlands in the 1400 when workers would throw their sabots (wooden shoes) into the wooden gears of the textile looms to break the cogs.
- From the French sabot (a wooden shoe or clog) via its derivative saboter (to knock with the foot, or work carelessly).
- From the late 19th-century French slang use of the word sabot to describe an unskilled worker, so called due to their wooden clogs or sabots; sabotage was used to describe the poor quality work which such workers turned out.
- A French railway strike of 1910, when workers destroyed the wooden shoes, or sabots, that held rails in place, thus impeding the morning commute.
- In the Industrial Revolution, it is said that powered looms could be damaged by angry or disgruntled workers' throwing their wooden shoes or clogs (known in French as sabots, hence the term Sabotage) into the machinery, effectively clogging the machinery. This is often referred to as one of the first inklings of the Luddite Movement. However, this etymology is highly suspect and no wooden shoe sabotage is known to have been reported from the time of the word's origin. 
When disgruntled workers damage or destroy equipment or interfere with the smooth running of a workplace, it is called workplace sabotage. This can be as part of an organized group activity, or the action of one or a few workers in response to personal grievances. Luddites and Radical labor unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) have advocated sabotage as a means of self-defense and direct action against unfair working conditions.
The IWW was shaped in part by the industrial unionism philosophy of Big Bill Haywood, and in 1910 Haywood was exposed to sabotage while touring Europe:
The experience that had the most lasting impact on Haywood was witnessing a general strike on the French railroads. Tired of waiting for parliament to act on their demands, railroad workers walked off their jobs all across the country. The French government responded by drafting the strikers into the army and then ordering them back to work. Undaunted, the workers carried their strike to the job. Suddenly, they could not seem to do anything right. Perishables sat for weeks, sidetracked and forgotten. Freight bound for Paris was misdirected to Lyon or Marseille instead. This tactic — the French called it "sabotage" — won the strikers their demands and impressed Bill Haywood.  For the IWW, sabotage came to mean any withdrawal of efficiency — including the slowdown, the strike, or creative bungling of job assignments.
Sabotage in defense of the environment
Certain groups turn to destruction of property in order to immediately stop environmental destruction or to make visible arguments against forms of modern technology considered detrimental to the earth and its inhabitants. The [[ and other law enforcement agencies use the term eco-terrorist when applied to damage of property. Proponents argue that since property can not feel terror, damage to property is more accurately described as sabotage. Opponents, by contrast, point out that property owners and operators can indeed feel terror. The image of the monkeywrench thrown into the moving parts of a machine to stop it from working was popularized by Edward Abbey in the novel The Monkeywrench Gang and has been adopted by eco-activists to describe destruction of earth damaging machinery.
Sabotage in war
In war, the word is used to describe the activity of an individual or group not associated with the military of the parties at war (such as a foreign agent or an indigenous supporter), in particular when actions result in the destruction or damaging of a productive or vital facility, such as equipment, factories, dams, public services, storage plants or logistic routes. Prime examples of such sabotage are the events of Black Tom and the Kingsland Explosion.
Unlike acts of terrorism, acts of sabotage do not always have a primary objective of inflicting casualties. Saboteurs are usually classified as enemies, and like spies may be liable to prosecution and criminal penalties instead of detention as a prisoner of war. It is common for a government in power during war or supporters of the war policy to use the term loosely against opponents of the war. Similarly, German Nationalists spoke of a stab in the back having cost them the loss of World War I. Also see .
Sabotage as part of a crime
Some criminals have engaged in acts of sabotage for reasons of extortion. For example, Klaus-Peter Sabotta sabotaged German railway lines in the late 1990s in an attempt to extort DM10 million from the German railway operator Deutsche Bahn. He is now serving a sentence of life imprisonment.
- Hodson, Randy and Teresa A. Sullivan, The Social Organization of Work, Chap. 3 pg. 69
- Partridge, Eric (1977). Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. Routledge. p. 2843. ISBN 0203421140.
- Donald, Graeme (2008). Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis: The Military Origins of Everyday Words and Phrases. Osprey Publishing. p. 230. ISBN 1846033004.
- Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, page 152.
- Jimthor, Stablewars, May 2008
- Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, pages 196-197.
- Sheila MacVicar; Ashley Velie with Amy Guttman (2007-05-23). "U.S. Working To Sabotage Iran Nuke Program". CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/05/23/eveningnews/printable2843582.shtml. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
- Emile Pouget, Le sabotage; notes et postface de Grégoire Chamayou et Mathieu Triclot, 1913; Mille et une nuit, 2004; English translation, Sabotage, paperback, 112 pp., University Press of the Pacific, 2001, ISBN 0-89875-459-3.
- Pasquinelli, Matteo. "The Ideology of Free Culture and the Grammar of Sabotage"; now in Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2008.
- News, accounts and articles on workplace sabotage and organising - Sabotage, employee theft, strikes, etc.
- Central Intelligence Agency sabotage manual
- Ozymandias Sabotage Handbook
- Online text of the third edition of Ecodefense
- Brian Martin, Sabotage, Nonviolence versus Capitalism [PDF]
- Article on malicious railroad sabotage
- Elizabeth Gurley Flinn, Sabotage, the conscious withdrawal of the workers' industrial efficiency