keep tabs on


1 [tab]
a small flap, strap, loop, or similar appendage, as on a garment, used for pulling, hanging, or decoration.
a tag or label.
a small projection from a card, paper, or folder, used as an aid in filing.
Informal. a bill, as for a meal in a restaurant; check.
a small piece attached or intended to be attached, as to an automobile license plate.
a small flap or tongue of material used to seal or close the opening of a container.
Also called tabulator. a stop on a typewriter, actuated by a key, that moves the carriage, typing element, etc., a predetermined number of spaces, used for typing material in columns, for fixed indentations, etc.
a programmed command on a computer, actuated by a key, that moves the cursor or printhead a predetermined number of spaces, used for keying material in columns, for fixed indentations, etc.
a small, often narrow, drop curtain, for masking part of the stage.
Aeronautics. a small airfoil hinged to the rear portion of a control surface, as to an elevator, aileron, or rudder. Compare trim tab.
verb (used with object), tabbed, tabbing.
to furnish or ornament with a tab or tabs.
to name or designate.
verb (used without object), tabbed, tabbing.
Also, tabulate. to operate the tab function on a typewriter or computer.
keep tabs/tab on, Informal. to keep an account of; check on; observe: The police kept tabs on the suspect's activities.

1600–10; (in defs 1–3, 5) < ?; (in defs 7 and 8) short for tabulator; (in def 9) short for tableau; (in defs 4 and 14) partly from shortening of table, partly in sense of def. 1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
tab1 (tæb)
1.  a small flap of material, esp one on a garment for decoration or for fastening to a button
2.  any similar flap, such as a piece of paper attached to a file for identification
3.  See also trim tab a small auxiliary aerofoil on the trailing edge of a rudder, aileron, or elevator, etc, to assist in the control of the aircraft in flight
4.  (Brit) military the insignia on the collar of a staff officer
5.  chiefly (US), (Canadian) a bill, esp one for a meal or drinks
6.  dialect (Scot), (Northern English) a cigarette
7.  informal keep tabs on to keep a watchful eye on
vb , tabs, tabbing, tabbed
8.  (tr) to supply (files, clothing, etc) with a tab or tabs
[C17: of unknown origin]

tab2 (tæb)
1.  tabulator short for tablet
2.  slang a portion of a drug, esp LSD or ecstasy

abbreviation for
1.  typhoid-paratyphoid A and B (vaccine)
2.  (Austral), (NZ) Totalizator Agency Board

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

"small flap," c.1600, possibly a dialectal word, of uncertain origin. Often interchangeable with tag (1). The verb meaning "to designate, label" is 1924, perhaps an alteration of tag (1).

"account, bill, check," 1889, Amer.Eng. colloquial, probably a shortened form of tabulation or of tablet in the sense of "a sheet for writing on." Fig. phrase to keep a tab on is recorded from 1890.

1961, shortened form of tablet (esp. one of sugar containing LSD). As an abbreviation of tabloid (newspaper) it is 1990s slang. As a short form of tabulator key of a typewriter (later computer) it is recorded from 1916.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Abbreviations & Acronyms
timing and acquisition bit
The American Heritage® Abbreviations Dictionary, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

keep tabs on

Observe carefully, keep a record of. For example, I hate having my boss keep tabs on my every move, or We've got to keep tabs on outgoing mail so we can keep track of postage. This expression uses to tab in the sense of "an account." [Late 1800s] Also see keep track.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Idioms & Phrases
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