use-icon

HOW TO USE THE DICTIONARY

Learn what the dictionary tells you about words.

Get Started Now!

Some compound words (like bus rapid transit, dog whistle, or identity theft) don’t appear on the drop-down list when you enter them into the search window. If a compound term doesn’t appear in the drop-down list, try entering the term into the search window and then hit the search button (instead of the “enter” key). Alternatively, begin searches for compound terms with a quotation mark.

use-icon

THE USAGE PANEL

The Usage Panel is a group of nearly 200 prominent scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language. The Panelists are surveyed annually to gauge the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.

The Panelists

puzzle-icon

NEED HELP SOLVING A CROSSWORD PUZZLE?

Go to our Crossword Puzzle Solver and type in the letters that you know, and the Solver will produce a list of possible solutions.

open-icon

INTERESTED IN DICTIONARIES?

Check out the Dictionary Society of North America at http://www.dictionarysociety.com

open-icon

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY APP

The new American Heritage Dictionary app is now available for iOS and Android.

scroll-icon

INDO-EUROPEAN & SEMITIC ROOTS APPENDICES

Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

Indo-European Roots

Semitic Roots

The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

open-icon

OPEN DICTIONARY PROJECT

Share your ideas for new words and new meanings of old words!

Start Sharing Now!

100-words-icon

See word lists from the best-selling 100 Words Series!

Find out more!

ab·a·cus (ăbə-kəs, ə-băkəs)
Share:
n. pl. ab·a·cus·es or ab·a·ci (ăbə-sī, ə-băkī)
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 in the Appendix of Semitic roots.]

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.
(click for a larger image)
abacus

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

This website is best viewed in Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Safari. Some characters in pronunciations and etymologies cannot be displayed properly in Internet Explorer.