Old English hlanc "loose and empty, meagerly slim, flaccid," from Proto-Germanic *hlanka-, forming words meaning "to bend, turn," perhaps from PIE root *kleng- "to bend, turn," with a connecting notion of "flexible" (compare German lenken "to bend, turn aside;" see flank (n.)). In Middle English, "Some examples may be long adj. with unvoicing of g" [The Middle English Compendium]. In reference to hair, "straight and flat," from 1680s. Related: Lankness (1640s).