The Hebrew and English words sound similar, but they are not related at all. The English “prize” is a variant of price, related to praise, appraise. The Hebrew pras had a very humble beginning, originally meaning “half” of anything, particularly the half mina coin given to a slave as a reward for working hard to please his master, as in Mishnah Avot 1:3: “Do not be like slaves who serve their master to receive a little fare (pras).” Hence, “a premium, reward, prize.”
Related to p-r-s, “to split, divide; break bread (sharing it with the poor)” (Isaiah 58:7); parsah, “divided hoof”; prusah, “slice (of bread)”; and peres, “vulture”* (“breaks the bones of its prey”).
*Also connected is the last name of Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel, Hebraized from the Polish name Perski. Peres was also a cousin of the late American film star Lauren Bacall (born Betty Joan Perske).
Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.