Thursday, January 21, 2016


A friend asked why the verb עולה oleh means both "to go up" and "to cost". Let's look at the various, but related, meanings of that root.

The most basic meaning of עלה is indeed, "to go up, ascend".

From here we get the noun aliya עליה - which can refer to someone being called up to the reading of the Torah, or moving "up" to the Land of Israel. This concept was first used in the Torah in describing travel from Egypt to Israel, later to describe the return of Jews from Babylon to Israel, and today all immigration to Israel is known as aliyah. (The proper phrase in Hebrew is oleh l'aretz, עולה לארץ, but as Philologos describes here, the more comfortable phrases in English - "go on aliya" or "make aliya" have made their mark on modern Hebrew, and so you more and more frequently hear in Hebrew oseh aliya עושה עליה.)

Other words deriving from that meaning include elyon עליון - "most high, supreme" and maalit מעלית - "elevator".

Klein suggests that the next meaning is "it sprang up, grew, shot forth". From this meaning he derives the etymology of the Hebrew word for "leaf" - aleh עלה.

The next sense is more metaphorical - "to rise, surpass, excel". This may be familiar from the Eshet Chayil song, originally from Mishlei, where the woman of valor is praised, "Many women have excelled, but you surpassed them (alit) all" - רַבּוֹת בָּנוֹת עָשׂוּ חָיִל וְאַתְּ עָלִית עַל-כֻּלָּנָה (Mishei 31:29). This sense is used commonly today in the word me'uleh מעולה - "excellent".

And from here we finally get to the answer to the question. In post-biblical Hebrew, we find a newer meaning - "was reckoned, counted in, considered." This is a development from the previous meaning, since something that excelled would be counted in and considered (for some reason this is bringing up painful memories of being chosen last in gym class in elementary school...). And because the price of something is how it is reckoned or considered, we get to the meaning "to cost".

So thanks for the question, Jenn, and I hope your aliya is excellent, and doesn't cost too much!

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