The word abstract was borrowed into Middle English in the fourteenth century from the Latin word abstractus, meaning "drawn away" (you can sort of see the connection to a nonexistent concept; it's "drawn away" from reality). This is from the verb abstrahere, implying the pulling away of something. Abstrahere is composed of ab-, meaning "off" and trahere, "pull" or "draw". Ab- comes from a Proto-Indo-European word sounding like hepo and containing the same definition. Trahere, meanwhile, is reconstructed as deriving from another Proto-Indo-European root; in this case it is from tregh, which likewise matched its Latin meaning almost exactly. The term abstract in reference to art hails from the 1920s, but was really popularized in the '50s. According to Google NGrams, usage of the word abstract in literature is now higher than it's ever been, constituting about 0.0026% of all words used.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.