late 14c., "sand table for drawing, calculating, etc.," also "art of calculating with an abacus," from Latin abacus, from Greek abax (genitive abakos) "counting table, board for drawing," of uncertain etymology. It is said to be from a Semitic source, Phoenician or Hebrew abaq "sand strewn on a surface for writing," literally "dust," from the Semitic root a-b-q "to fly off," but Beekes and others find this "semantically weak."
Originally a drawing board covered with dust or sand on which mathematical equations or calculations could be traced and erased. In reference to the other type of abacus, a counting frame with beads or balls strung on wires or rods, it is attested from 17c. or later in English. Both types were known in antiquity across Eurasia. Related: Abacist (late 14c.)