late Old English flanc "flank, fleshy part of the side," from Old French flanc "hip, side," from Frankish or another Germanic source, from Proto-Germanic *hlanca- (source also of Old High German (h)lanca, Middle High German lanke "hip joint," German lenken "to bend, turn aside;" Old English hlanc "loose and empty, slender, flaccid;" Old Norse hlykkr "a bend, noose, loop"), from PIE root *kleng- "to bend, turn" (see link (n.)). Showing characteristic change of Germanic hl- to Romanic fl-. The military sense is first attested 1540s. Meaning "side" of anything is by 1620s. As an adjective, "pertaining to the flank or side," 1660s. Related: Flanked; flanking.
1590s (military), "to guard the flank," also, "to menace the flank, fire sideways upon," from flank (n.). Meaning "stand or be placed at the side of" is from 1650s. Related: Flanked; flanking.