Thursday, June 14, 2012

Language of Confusion: -lapse

I was going to do another letter post but those require a lot of research and I’m a little busy right now. I think these are awesome anyway. Don’t you agree?

Where did those crickets come from?

Anyway, this week’s word is lapse and all the cognates thereof. Lapse showed up in the early (verb) to mid (noun) fifteenth century from the Middle French laps. The French word, of course, comes from classical Latin, where the word is lapsus—tripping or falling. Our current definition is pretty close although has taken on a more metaphorical sense.

The related words, in order from “I’ve heard of that” to “that’s a word?”, are collapse, relapse, prolapse, elapse, delapse, illapse and interlapse. Yes, those last three are words. No, I didn’t know what they meant until I looked them up.

As usual, the difference is in the prefixes. The col- part comes from com-, a prefix which means together. Put together it means “falling together”, which is the literal meaning of its Latin form collapsus. Today, collapse seems to have taken over for lapse as a word for a literal fall. Next on the list is relapse, a word for falling back into an old habit. Since the re- prefix means “back”, I’d say this one isn’t a big mystery. 

We also have elapse, from the Middle French elapser and the classical Latin elapsus, slip or escape from. The e- is from ex- and means out or away from, so together it means slip away from. These days, elapse mostly refers to the escaping of time. Prolapse usually refers to something in your anatomy that has fallen out of place. It comes from the classical Latin prolapse—shocking. The prefix pro- can mean before or forward, making the word “to slip/fall forward”. Fitting.

Now for the words that I’ve never heard of before. According to, delapse means "to pass down by inheritance". It doesn’t have an entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary, but the prefix de- means down from, so to delapse is to “pass down from a fall (death)”. Next, in illapse, the il- comes from the prefix in-. There are two separate definitions of this prefix, but I’m pretty sure this one comes from the second one, “into” since the dictionary says illapse means glide or fall into. Finally there’s interlapse, which means the interval (or lapse) between two events. Inter- is related to enter and means among or between. So the definition is pretty much “between the lapse”. I guess since we can just say “the time elapsed” or “interval”, interlapse kind of fell into disuse.

Whew. Okay, that took longer than I thought…



  1. You must be ready to collapse after that! Well researched.

  2. Interlapse. I like that word. I may just have to adopt it.

  3. Very well researched!

    Collapse has been one of those words that I've had on my mind lately....


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