Definition of abacus in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈabəkəs/

noun (plural abacuses)

Image of abacus
1A simple device for calculating, consisting of a frame with rows of wires or grooves along which beads are slid.
Example sentences
  • An abacus with 5 beads per wire will do quite nicely.
  • Our eventual aim is to display the complete history of computing, from the abacus to the latest machines.
  • A young man sat against the wall doing calculation with an abacus and recording data onto paper.
2 Architecture The flat slab on top of a capital, supporting the architrave.
Example sentences
  • The abacus is between the architrave and the aechinus in the capital.
  • The capital displays on three of its faces a single naked male dancer, whose head is positioned on the central axis, midway between volutes, as if to form a console supporting the abacus.
  • The waterleaf is a broad, unribbed, tapering leaf curving up towards the angle of the abacus and turned in at the top.


Late Middle English (denoting a board strewn with sand on which to draw figures): from Latin, from Greek abax, abak- 'slab, drawing board', of Semitic origin; probably related to Hebrew 'āḇāq 'dust'.

  • The abacus that we know today, with rows of wires along which slide beads, is an ancient object used by the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans and is still found in many parts of the world. The earliest abacus was probably a board covered with sand, on which a clerk could draw figures and then rub them out again, and this was the original meaning in English. The word was borrowed from Latin, but came from Greek abax ‘board, slab, plate’, and probably ultimately from Hebrew ābāq ‘dust’.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: aba¦cus

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.