KENNING The word kenning is derived from the Old Norse expression kenna eitt viS ("to express rela-tionally" or "to make known by"). As a literary device, kenning is found predominantly in Anglo-Saxon poetry, particularly heroic verse, as well as Old Norse/ Icelandic Eddas and sagas. The technique is used abundantly in Beowulf, from which all these examples are drawn.
The simple definition of kenning is a metaphorical compound word or short phrase that replaces a name or noun, in which the object of the metaphor is implied but not stated. These compounds may consist of noun/ noun combinations ("whale-road" or "swan-way" for the sea), or noun/verb combinations ("heath-stepper" for deer). Some scholars believe that a pure kenning must involve a simile, implied or stated, and not mere description. Thus, "battle-friend" would be a kenning for sword, but "battle-iron" would not. other scholars allow for phrasal kennings as well as compound ones (e.g., "storm of swords" for "battle").
Kennings were particularly important to a culture with a limited lexicon. As embedded metaphorical devices, kennings have the potential to create multilay-ered effects. For example, they may be used to convey irony or humor ("shield-play" for "battle") or to assign honor and prestige ("gold-friend" for "lord"). In old Norse poetry, kennings themselves can be used in layers (e.g., "storm of battle-friends" meaning "storm of swords" or "battle"), a technique employed only rarely in old English.
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