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"Keep tabs on"

Posted by R. Berg on October 17, 2003

In Reply to: "Keep tabs on" posted by treborf on October 16, 2003

: Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "keep tabs on" (to monitor)?

It comes from keeping accounts, maintaining records of charges. The Oxford English Dictionary labels "tab" in this sense as U.S. colloquial and defines it as "A table, an account [cf. TABLET . . . ]; a check." The earliest use of the phrase recorded in the OED is dated 1889: "Every man keeps a mean little tab in his head on his fellows" (Washington Post).