The use of kennings in literature is characteristically related to works in Old English poetry where the author would use a twist of words, figure of speech or magic poetic phrase or a newly created compound sentence or phrase to refer to a person, object, place, action or idea. The use of imagery and indicative, direct and indirect references to substitute the proper, formal name of the subject is known as kennings. The use of kennings was also prevalent in Old Norse and Germanic poetry.

Kennings are rare in modern day language. Here are a few examples from Beowulf:

Battle-sweat = blood
Sky-candle = sun
Whale-road = ocean
Light-of-battle = sword

11 thoughts on “Kennings”

  1. Ankle-biter (toddler)
    Rugrat (toddler/baby)
    four-eyes (someone who wears glasses)
    tree-hugger (environmentalist)
    fender-bender (car crash)

  2. Two kennings for metals I’ve found are fool’s gold, for pyrite, and quicksilver, for mercury. It feels like other terms for metals in the same pattern must exist.

    1. Fool’s gold and quicksilver are not kennings because those are just common names for those matterials. Also pyrite is not a metal.

    2. Also Quicksilver is a translation. The Ancient term for Mercury was Hydrogyrem, literally translated water-silver, and translatable to quick-silver.

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