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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2008-09-06 00:12:04

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2601

time lap << time lapse

In time lapse photography the photographer shoots a movie in very fast motion, i.e., with a large interval, or lapse, of time between each shot.

“Time lapse photography” presumably borrows its name from the idiom “lapse of time.” The word “lapse,” taken from the Latin lapsus, meaning a slip or a gradual fall, became part of English during the Renaissance. About the same time “elapse,” which derives from a Latin cognate of lapsus, also entered English.

The words behind “lapse” and “elapse” do not seem to have been applied to the concept of time during Latin’s classical period. Once transferred to English, however, “lapse” soon picked up a close association with time. This may have happened through a metaphorical transference. In both Latin and English the noun “lapse” was commonly used to refer to a gliding flood of water, often water that was gliding downward. Milton, for example, writes about the “liquid Lapse of murmuring Streams” in Paradise Lost. It was not a large step to begin to talk about the gliding flow of the stream of time. An even smaller step applied the new metaphor to the interval between two points on the stream of time. By the Enlightenment a “lapse of time” had become an interval of time. In modern speech the word “lapse” is so wedded to time that the phrase “lapse of time” can seem redundant. We sometimes speak of a time interval as a simple “lapse” (“He returned to work after a short lapse.”).

The OED points out historical examples of a mixup between “laps” and “lapse” that look like early eggcorns. The two should not be confused-“lap” and “lapse” are quite different words. “Lap” is an old teutonic/AS word that usually refers to some kind of wrapping or folding. (The sense of “lap” that refers to the area between our waist and our knees when we sit down arises from this “folding” sense.) But “lap” and “lapse” do get confused. Time lapse photography, besides giving us inspiring visuals, has given us a new eggcornical confusion of the words. There are dozens of examples on the web of “time lap photography.” Several examples are given below.

What might the person who uses “time lap” be thinking about? It could be the fold sense of “lap.” When we do time lapse photography we fold time together and make separate times lap over each other. Or it could be the later development of this folding sense which gave us the term for a circuit around a track (“one lap to go”). A “time lap” movie in this case would be one in which the picture is taken each time the second or minute or hour hand makes a lap around the face of a clock.


Product description for a security system: “By connecting a time-lap video recorder or a video transmission system via telephone lines, a time record of the alarm sequences can be obtained.” (

Caption on a Youtube video: “time lap movie” (

Comment on a picture gallery: “It’s like a time lap photography with a longer intervals, not to mention the beauty of the place which is presented at its best.” (

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#2 2008-09-06 17:40:47

From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: time lap << time lapse

A nice find accompanied by another informative and gorgeously written mini-essay.

I wondered whether I could find any places where a writer seemed to be referring to “laps of time” in the plural. Most of the very few instances I found were punning or ambivalent, but the following cite from The Indian Journal of Pharmacology is pretty interesting. The authors repeatedly refer to an interval of time as a “lap” (and they do this in sections beyond what I’ve shown below). They’ve created a “lap watch” function on a computer for medical technicians who need a very precise measurement of successive medically significant events. They borrowed the name of the function from the “lap watch,” but they seem to be conflating the “lapse of time” and the the laps that a lap watch measures. Nevertheless, they use “elapse” twice here, suggesting that they may well be aware of the etymological connection between “laps(e) of time” and “elapse.”

3. Lap Watch: This module is meant for use where laps of time are to be recorded e.g. different phases of convulsion in ‘maximal electroshock seizures’. The user is first prompted to select the number of laps up to a maximum of six. He is then allowed to give titles to the laps e.g. ‘tonic flexor phase’, ‘tonic extensor phase’ and ‘clonic phase’. The user can start the first lap by pressing the space bar. Each subsequent press of the space bar stops the current lap and simultaneously starts the next, till all the laps are finished. The screen shows the title of the lap (e.g. tonic flexor phase), the time elapsed since the start of the current lap as well as the total time elapsed since starting the lap watch i.e. the cumulative time elapsed. At the end, the user can start the lap watch once again or go to the main menu. … ast=Chopra

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-09-06 17:41:51)



#3 2008-09-06 18:31:07

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2601

Re: time lap << time lapse

Like you, Pat, I think it quite likely that some of the many instances of “laps of time” are conflating “lapse,” an interval of time, with “laps,” a cyclical repetition. The ones with singular adjectives (e.g., “a laps of time) are probably just misspellings. But the ones with definite articles (“the laps of time”) leave me scratching my head. No smoking guns, but the example you cite is at least tendentious.

“Laps of memory” is also common. Hard to see it as anything more than a misspelling, though.

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#4 2012-10-14 19:45:17

David Bird
From: Montréal, QC
Registered: 2009-07-28
Posts: 1562

Re: time lap << time lapse

I’ve got nothing new to add. I just ran across the ambiguous laps on facebook:

look up the time laps video of this, it is cooler … =1&theater

and ran straight here.

Edit: OK, let me make this more substantial. This lap of silence feels a bit like a lap around the room.

A momentary lap of silence was all it took, and he caved. “Fine, go.” He said.

On the other hand, all the “lap”s of judgment being run are harder to justify.

Last edited by David Bird (2012-10-14 19:55:17)



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