The end of a loaf of bread has quite a lot of nicknames in the United States, including “heel,” “crust,” “nose,” “butt” and, of course, “end,” according to the 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey, which examines how word usage correlates with geographic location. One of the words that just barely made the list was “shpitzel,” which comes up in a few spots on the East Coast and is also a Yiddish word for a certain type of head covering worn by some ultra-Orthodox women, as well as a German word meaning “informer.”
In light of all that, I guess it’s not really so odd that in Hebrew, many people call the end of a loaf of bread a neshika, meaning “kiss.”
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One popular explanation for the colloquialism is that when the rolls or loaves are on the baking tray, the ends sometimes make contact and look like they’re kissing.
This isn’t the only instance in which variations of lenashek (“to kiss”) are used to mean that two objects are in close proximity. One Hebrew dictionary offers the usage example “The house kissed the coast.” Conceptually, that’s not so far off from the English equivalent, “hugging the coast,” and hair or skin is more likely to be described in English as having been kissed by the sun than embraced by it.
“What do two loaves of bread do when they haven’t seen each other in a long time? They kiss,” reads the Neshika entry in a glossary of bread-related terms published by Israeli news website Ynet. “And that’s no joke. The neshika of the bread is the place where one loaf of bread sticks to another loaf of bread during baking.”
A rhyming poem circulating on the Internet, with no author cited, pays tribute to “The Neshika of the Bread,” as per the title, saying: “It’s always nice to get a neshika… That’s always the sweetest part for me.” And a kosher bakery in Tel Aviv cheekily calls itself Neshika Tzarfatit, or “French Kiss.”
The term may be related to the Mishna’s discussion of loaves of bread that are noshkhin ze ba’ze (Tractate Taharot 1:7), meaning that they are close enough to be touching one another.
The word used in the Mishna has a different root from neshika; words related to nashakh generally involve either biting or the kind of interest that banks charge. All the same, the use of this word in the Mishna to refer specifically to loaves of bread that touch each other (it appears in Tractate Challah as well, in the same context) seems to indicate that noshkhin may at some point have morphed into the more familiar noshkim, providing us with that crusty neshika.
If all those carbohydrate-rich French kisses leave you wanting more, there’s also the kind of neshika that makes for a good dessert – not Hershey’s kisses but meringues, which have a similar domed shape. While these are sometimes referred to as “meringue kisses” in English, Israelis drop the “meringue” part altogether, leaving them free to subsist on nothing but kisses should they so choose.
For the darker side of Israeli kisses, tune in Thursday.
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at email@example.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.