IN A MARINER'S WORDS
"tomber en panne"
“After 300 km, the car broke down.”
When 16th century sailors wanted to slow down or bring their sailing ship to a complete halt, they sais they were going to “bouter vent en penne,” which meant they were going to oust the wind from the sails by bringing the ship about to head in a different direction.
Later the expression was shortened to “mettre en panne.” That meant reorienting the sails until they found the right balance of wind in the sails to slow down or halt the ship’s momentum.
They used the expression “panne sèche” for halting the vessel using only the rudder, no sails, literally a dry halt. If sails were used, they said the ship was “en panne courante,” or running down in speed.
In the 18th century, when a ship was immobilized it was said to be “en panne,” which has come to mean out of order or broken down.