If you will allow me to dispense with our regular format today, we’re going to look at a whole bunch of words that have “allow” in them. You would think at least a few of them would be related. Surprisingly, when you look at their origins, they don’t share the same roots. We’ll take them alphabetically.
Allow traces its history from the Latin allaudare (to praise), through the Old French alouer (to allot, bestow, assign), on to the Middle English allouen (to be pleased with, appreciate the value of). And over the years, that evolved to the current meaning of “give permission, sanction, condone.”
Callow, meaning “immature, inexperienced” (like “a callow youth”) came from the Old English calu (bald). “Calu” was extended to mean “unfledged,” that is, without feathers. In other words, not fully developed, immature.
Fallow is from a bunch of Germanic words (falgo, felga, Felge) and the Old English fealgian that all related to broken-up ground made ready for planting. By the 1500’s, fallow had acquired the modern meaning of “land that has been plowed but left unplanted to restore its fertility.”
Gallow is the singular form of a word that is only used in its plural form (gallows). It’s like “trousers” in that respect; you never hear anyone speak of “a trouser.” At any rate, the word for the structure used to hang criminals comes to us by way of several similar Old English, Dutch, German and Old Norse words (galga, galg, Galgen, galgi) which all referred to the gallows pole or cross. Gallows is always plural because the structure consisted of a crossbeam on two upright poles.
Hallow, from the Old English halgian, meaning to make holy, sanctify or set apart for holy use, is another of those words that more often shows up in other forms, like “hallowed,” regarded as sacred, blessed, venerated (e.g., “these hallowed halls”) or as a plural noun, “hallows,” which refers to saints or relics of the saints. Halloween is a shortening of All Hallows Evening, which precedes All Saints Day.
Mallow comes from the Latin malva and the Greek malakhē, meaning, um, mallow – that is, a type of flowering plant in the Hibiscus (and Malva) family. Mallow (or Malva) leaves were often a purple color, and the light purple color “mauve” was directly named for the mallow plant. And yes, there is a variety of the mallow that grows in a marsh. An extract from the root of the Marsh Mallow (or marshmallow) plant was used a flavoring in certain Middle Eastern treats like Halvah. The French added meringue to the recipe, and came up with something very like today’s marshmallows. Of course, the marshmallows we eat these days don’t contain any part of the Marsh Mallow plant.
Sallow, an unhealthy pale yellow color (“he was just getting over the flu, and had a sallow complexion”) comes to us from the Old English salo (dusky, dark) and Old Norse sölr (yellow). Sallow is also the name for a low-growing European willow. (And remember, “sallow” spelled sideways is “allows,” which takes us right back where we started).
Tallow is a hard animal fat used to make candles, soap and lubricants. The German Talg and Dutch talch gave us today’s tallow. You know what they say…”Better to light some tallow than curse the darkness.” (Well, somebody probably says that).
Wallow, to roll around in the mud or mire, is a descendant of Old English wealwian and the Latin volvere (both meaning “to roll”). Used as a noun, wallow can refer to the place where animals go to, er, wallow. And when used to describe an emotional state, it is most often a negative emotion (“he was wallowing in self-pity”).
Nine words that all have the word “allow” in them, and change their meanings with the addition of a single letter. And not one of them is etymologically related to any of the others. Gotta love English.