"having sufficient power or means," early 14c., from Old French (h)able "capable; fitting, suitable; agile, nimble" (14c.), from Latin habilem, habilis "easily handled, apt," verbal adjective from habere "to hold" (from PIE root *ghabh- "to give or receive").
"Easy to be held," hence "fit for a purpose." The silent h- was dropped in English and resisted academic attempts to restore it 16c.-17c. (see H), but some derivatives (such as habiliment, habilitate) acquired it via French. Able seaman, one able to do any sort of work required on a ship, may be the origin of this:
Able-whackets - A popular sea-game with cards, in which the loser is beaten over the palms of the hands with a handkerchief tightly twisted like a rope. Very popular with horny-fisted sailors. [Smyth, "Sailor's Word-Book," 1867]
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