We borrowed the Dutch word verlof (a leave of absence) in the 1600s. The Dutch seem to have based the word on the German Verlaub (permission). For the first century or so, we pronounced the final "f", like the Dutch, but by the end of the 1800s it had dropped off, and the word was respelled "furlow" or, in imitation of words like "though", "furlough" (because English has never liked a simple spelling when we could have a difficult one instead). Originally, the word was used only in military contexts, but was soon extended to other fields of endeavour.
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