Word of the Day / Korenflehks

When said in an Israeli accent, the name of the bland cereal invented to help suppress the fleshy passions refers to everything from Cheerios to Lucky Charms.

You’re at the supermarket, and you overhear what sounds like a negotiation between a mother and child in which the word korenflehks recurs. Going by the context and the sound of the word, you guess they're discussing cornflakes. But you're only partially correct.

Korenfleks is the generic word in spoken – and sometimes even written – Hebrew for all dry cereal. If someone asks you what kind of korenflehks you would like for breakfast, Cheerios is a correct answer. The genteel Hebrew term for breakfast cereal is deganei boker.

How did corn flakes become korenflehks? You don’t need to be here very long to realize there is no long “a” sound in contemporary Israeli Hebrew like the one in the English words “cable” and “flakes” as spoken by professor Henry Higgens. In Hebrew words borrowed from English and other languages, that sound becomes “ah” or “eh” – “cahbel and “flehks.”

And what about “koren”? Hebrew has a very hard time with a run of more than two consonant sounds without a vowel sound between them, and the phonetic sequence “rnfl” in cornflakes just doesn’t come naturally. You can check this out for yourself by engaging a native speaker in a conversation about Ella Fitzgerald – it's rude to laugh aloud in such circumstances. Arabic has a hard time with even two unvowelled consonants in a row: The star of the film “Rebel Without a Cause” is Jammez Din in this region.

Cornflakes were serendipitously invented in the United States by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, director of a sanatorium, and his younger brother Will Keith Kellogg, when some cooked wheat berries they left to stand turned stale. In search of economical, bland foods to serve the patients, they passed the apparently wasted wheat through mechanical rollers hoping to make dough and found the berries had become flakes, which they toasted and served to the clientele’s satisfaction. The brothers later took out a patent on the process.

John Harvey Kellogg, a devout Seventh Day Adventist deeply interested in suppressing the fleshly passions, particularly autoeroticism, would have been happy to leave things there. But to his lasting horror, his brother, more of a business type, added sugar to the recipe and began to market the product to the masses.

The Kellogg Company is now the second largest food snack conglomerate in the world, after Pepsico.

At a neighborhood supermarket in Jerusalem, you can pay NIS 22.90 for a 750-gram box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes manufactured in Manchester, England, with 378 calories and 7 grams of protein per 100 grams, or NIS 19.90 for a 750-gram box of locally made Telma Korenflehks with 363 calories per serving and 10 grams of protein.

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

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