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able mid-14c., from O.Fr. (h)able, from L. habilis "easily handled, apt," verbal adj. from habere "to hold" (see habit). "Easy to be held," hence "fit for a purpose." The silent h- was dropped in Eng. and resisted academic attempts to restore it 16c.-17c., but some derivatives acquired it (e.g. habiliment, habilitate), via French."Able-whackets - A popular sea-game with cards, in which the loser is beaten over the palms of the hands with a handkerchief tightly twisted like a rope. Very popular with horny-fisted sailors." [Smyth, "Sailor's Word-Book," 1867]