late 14c., "avoid (something); refrain (oneself) from; keep free from sin or vice; live austerely, practice abstinence or asceticism; be sexually continent," from Old French abstiner, abstenir (14c.), earlier astenir (13c.) "hold (oneself) back, refrain voluntarily, abstain (from what satisfies the passions), practice abstinence," from Latin abstinere/abstenere "withhold, keep back, keep off," from assimilated form of ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + tenere "to hold," from PIE root *ten- "to stretch." Specifically of liquor from late 14c. Meaning "refrain from voting" is from 1796. Related: Abstained; abstaining.