General English


  • noun formerly, an enemy ship or cargo captured in war

Origin & History of “prize”

English has four words prize. The one meaning ‘reward’ (16th c.) is essentially the same word as price. This was originally pris, mirroring its immediate Old French ancestor pris. It became prise, to indicate the length of its vowel i, and in the 16th century this differentiated into price for ‘amount to pay’ and prize for ‘reward’. (Modern French prix has given English grand prix (19th c.), literally ‘great prize’, first used for a ‘car race’ in 1908.) Prize ‘esteem’ (14th c.) was based on pris-, the stem of Old French preisier ‘praise’ (source of English praise). Prize ‘something captured in war’ (14th c.) comes via Old French prise ‘capture, seizure, booty’ from vulgar Latin *prēsa or *prēnsa ‘something seized’. This was a noun use of the past participle of *prēndere ‘seize’, a contraction of classical Latin praehendere (from which English gets prehensile, prison, etc). Another sense of Old French prise was ‘grasp’. English borrowed this in the 14th century as prize ‘lever’, which in due course was turned into modern English’s fourth prize, the verb prize, or prise, ‘lever’ (17th c.). Pry ‘lever’ (19th c.) is an alteration of prize, based on the misapprehension that it is a third-person singular present form (*pries).