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Appraisal and praise can be traced back to a common Latin root: pretiare (“to reward”). One thing that I do not understand, though, is how they came to have such different meanings: praise is positive, while appraisal is entirely neutral.

This latter was a surprise to me, when I first heard it, because I tried to figure out its meaning from the root I knew, and wondered why my boss would want to have an “yearly appraisal”: why would we meet one-on-one once a year, to give him the opportunity to praise my work? Or was it working the other way around, was I supposed to give him praise?

Anyway, with that anecdote out of the way, the question is: can this evolution in meaning, from a common Latin root, be traced through history? Can we know (or guess) when the meanings started to diverge?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The OED writes that appraise appeared after praise, and was "for some time, contemporaneously, used in same sense". Further, in the entry for praise they mention:

The late survival of sense 5 probably results from association with appraise v., as though it were an aphetic form of this word.

This mentioned sense is:

To estimate or fix the monetary value of; to fix the price of (something for sale); to appraise.

This meaning of praise--which coincides with appraise's modern meaning--is one of the oldest meanings of the word. Tracing back the historical usages from the OED, the path is something like this:

  • 1230: "to express warm approbation of" (transitive)
  • 1250: trans. To value, esteem; to attach value to; = prize v.1 2. Obs.
  • 1280: trans. To estimate or fix the monetary value of; to fix the price of (something for sale); to appraise. Cf. prize v.1 1. Also intr. Obs. (Eng. regional in later use).
  • 1300: In infinitive used predicatively with passive meaning: to be praised; deserving of praise; praiseworthy (now rare)
  • 1330: To express approbation; to bestow praise (intransitive)
  • 1382: trans. To glorify (a deity, a venerated person, etc.), esp. through ceremony, ritual, song, or prayer; to sing the praises of.
  • 1601: trans. To cause (a person or thing) to be praised; to reflect praise or honour on

As you can see, in one of its earliest senses, praise was equivalent to the modern appraise. According to the OED, appraise was first used in 1535. This coincides with the last known uses of praise in this form--marked as 1590 (in reference to the value of something) or 1724 (in reference to a monetary value). I would say that in this time range, the current definition of "appraise" started to shift away from praise. Perhaps once the word appraise was coined, praise was starting to lose the same meaning--thus shifting it from one word to another in order to express the same sentiment.

Finally, the first known use of appraisal to refer to the evaluation of an employee was in 1955.

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It looks like the missing link is value. The etymology of price explains it a bit:

early 13c., pris, from O.Fr. pris "price, value, wages, reward," also "honor, praise, prize" (Fr. prix), from L.L. precium, from L. pretium "reward, prize, value, worth," from PIE *preti- "back," on notion of "recompense" (cf. Skt. aprata "without recompense, gratuitously," Gk. protei "toward, to, upon," Lett. pret "opposite," O.C.S. protivu "in opposition to, against"). Praise, price, and prize began to diverge in O.Fr., with praise emerging in M.E. by early 14c. and prize being evident by late 1500s with the rise of the -z- spelling. Having shed the extra O.Fr. and M.E. senses, the word now again has the base sense of the L. original.

According to Google Dictionary, appraisal is based on value. Praise is also based on a (positive) valuation of someone or something.

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