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late 13c., "large, flat mass," of unknown origin, possibly related to Old French escopel, escalpe "thin fragment of wood," which according to Klein is possibly a Gaulish word (cf. Breton scolp, Welsh ysgolp "splinter, chip"). But OED rejects this on formal grounds. Meaning "rectangular block of pre-cast concrete used in building" is from 1927. Slab-sided is "having flat sides like slabs," hence "tall and lank" (1817, American English).