ab·a·cus (ăb’ə-kəs, ə-băk’əs)
n. pl. ab·a·cus·es or ab·a·ci (ăb’ə-sī′, ə-băk’ī′) 1) A manual computing device consisting of a frame holding parallel rods strung with movable counters. 2) Architecture A slab on the top of the capital of a column.
[Middle English, from Latin, from Greek abax, abak-, counting board, perhaps from a Semitic source akin to Hebrew 'ābāq, dust; see ʾbq.]
Word History: The source of our word abacus, the Greek word abax, may have originated in one of the Semitic languages spoken in the ancient Near East. The Semitic word that was the source of Greek abax was probably akin to the Hebrew word 'ābāq, "dust," which in postbiblical usage could also mean "sand used as a writing surface." The Greek word abax has as one of its senses "a board sprinkled with sand or dust for drawing geometric diagrams." Boards like this were also used for performing arithmetic calculations by moving pebbles around the board, and these early abacuses eventually developed into the abacuses with movable counters strung on rods familiar to us today. Greek abax was borrowed into Latin as abacus, and then the Latin word was borrowed into Middle English. The first known use of the word abacus in English, found in a Middle English work written before 1387, refers to a kind of sand-board abacus that was used according to techniques that European mathematicians adopted from the Muslim world.

Word Histories. 2014.

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  • abacus — ► NOUN (pl. abacuses) ▪ a frame with rows of wires or grooves along which beads are slid, used for calculating. ORIGIN Greek abax slab, drawing board …   English terms dictionary

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