Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


A.Word.A.Day

About | Media | Search | Contact  


Home

Today's Word

Subscribe

Archives



May 27, 2019
This week’s theme
Words originating in shoes

This week’s words
sabotage
roughshod
old shoe
vamp
shoehorn

sabot
Sabots
Photo: Berkh/Wikimedia

Previous week’s theme
Tosspot words borrowed from other languages
Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share
A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

What did the English author Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400), the German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856), and the American astrogeologist Gene Shoemaker (1928-1997) have in common?

They worked different gigs. They were separated by time and space. What could they have in common?

All three had ancestors in the shoe business. The surname Shoemaker is obvious. Schumann is, literally, a shoe man (German Schuh + Mann), and so is Chaucer (Middle French chausse: shoe).

Back then, career options were limited. (No garages, so no startup culture. No opportunity to start a garage band either.) If your father was a shoemaker, chances were you followed in his footsteps.

One’s profession was a good way to identify a person. Which John? John the Shoemaker! Eventually, this second name began to be inherited as a surname (literally, an additional name). Joe Shoemaker was a Shoemaker even if he chased village lasses the whole day and never cobbled a shoe in his entire life.

Lucky for us, none of the three people above joined the family business. Nothing wrong with making shoes, but even the best Reeboks fade with time. Yet, The Canterbury Tales are timeless.

That said, shoes are an essential part of one’s wardrobe and as such they have become part of the language as well. This week we’ll see words having their origins in shoes. Even if you’re familiar with these words, their etymologies are fun.

sabotage

PRONUNCIATION:
(SAB-uh-tazh)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To disrupt, damage, or destroy, especially in an underhanded manner.
noun: An instance of such subversion.

ETYMOLOGY:
From French saboter (to walk noisily, to botch), from sabot (wooden shoe). Earliest documented use: 1910.

NOTES:
The popular story of disgruntled workers throwing their sabots into the machinery to jam it is not supported by evidence. Rather, it’s that the workers typically wore sabots.

USAGE:
“Could MazeHunter be used by US companies to sabotage the attacker’s computer?”
Nicholas Schmidle; Digital Vigilantes; The New Yorker; May 7, 2018.

See more usage examples of sabotage in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Compassion is not weakness and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism. -Hubert Humphrey, US Vice President (27 May 1911-1978)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere

Donate

Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2019 Wordsmith