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 "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.