"small flap or strip of material," c. 1600, possibly from a dialectal word, of uncertain origin. Often interchangeable with tag (n.1). Compare also Middle English tab "strap or string" (mid-15c.), Norwegian dialectal tave "piece of cloth, rag."
"account, bill, check," 1888, American English colloquial, probably a shortened form of tabulation or of tablet in the sense "a sheet for writing on." Figurative phrase keep a tab on is recorded from 1890.
updated on January 13, 2014