This nOde last updated August 1st, 2002 and is permanently morphing...
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plural abacuses or abaci (àb´e-sì´, e-bàk´ì´)
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, probably from Hebrew 'âbâq, dust.]
Word History: The adjective dusty, with its connotations of disuse and age, might seem to be an appropriate word to describe the abacus, since this counting device was used for solving arithmetical problems in the days before the advent of calculators and computers. Originally the abacus was, in fact, dusty. The source of our word abacus, the Greek word abax, probably comes from Hebrew 'âbâq, "dust," although the details of transmission are obscure. In postbiblical usage 'âbâq meant "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." This board is a relative of the abacus with movable counters strung on rods that is familiar to us. The first use of the word abacus, recorded in Middle English in a work written before 1387, refers to a sand-board abacus, in this case, one used by the Arabs. The difference in form between the Middle English word abacus and its Greek source abax is explained by the fact that Middle English actually borrowed Latin abacus, which came from the Greek genitive form (abakos) of abax.
Abacus, device for performing arithmetic calculations. An abacus is a tablet or frame with grooves or wires on which counters or beads are moved. A modern abacus has a bar across the wires dividing the beads into two groups. Each wire represents one place in the decimal system. The five beads below the crossbar each represent one unit, and the two beads above the crossbar each represent five units. Beads count when placed against the crossbar. Many early civilizations used the abacus, and it is still used in China and Japan.
counting instrument: counting instrument, abacus, suan pan, quipu
The abacus was not invented in China. It originated in Egypt in 2000 BC, almost a millennium before it reached the Orient.
Technology, 500 B.C.
The abacus, devised by Egyptian
mathematicians, is the world's first calculator (year approximate). The
bead-and-wire contraption will be used by merchants, engineers, and students
for millennia, especially in Asian countries.