A kenning is a condensed kind of metaphor that originated in Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry. A kenning is a two-word phrase that describes an item, such as "whale-road" for "sea." Some kennings are more obscure than others, and eventually become a conundrum. For example, "a whale-road leads up to the house by the sea," which could refer to any road leading up to any house on any shoreline worldwide.
Kennings were used to avoid describing objects too directly. They allowed poets to express complex ideas in simple words, helping them transmit knowledge and information across distances faster than possible today. Poets would invent new kennings constantly, using their imagination to create metaphors that would not have been possible with plain English alone.
In modern usage, "kenning" usually refers to the poetic form consisting of a pair of such descriptions, as above. However, it can also mean a brief metaphorical statement or description used in place of a noun or adjective. Thus, "to ken the mind of man" means to understand how humans think; "to ken resistance" means to know how people fight back against oppression.
It was first used in English in 1380.
Here's a fast and easy explanation: A kenning is a figure of speech that combines two words to make a poetic term that alludes to a person or object. For example, "whale-road" refers to the sea. Kennings appear most frequently in Old Norse and Old English poetry. A good example is this line from The Wanderer: "The whale-road leads him far away."
In addition to whales, other things that can be referred to by means of a kenning include rivers, roads, houses, swords, stars, clouds, and so on. There are many, many more words that could be used in place of these objects, they're just few examples.
A kenning is different from a simile. While both words and phrases are used to compare something with something else, a kenning goes beyond using like terms. It creates a new word that combines the two original terms to give a meaning that neither one of them had by itself.
For example, "the whale-road leads him far away" is a kenning because it creates a new word ("whale-road") that has no real meaning on its own. Similes often use "like" or "as" to connect the two objects being compared (i.e., "the fish was like a whale").
Kenning, a short compound or metaphorical word used to replace a common noun in Old Germanic, Old Norse, and Old English poetry. A kenning is typically a simple stock compound like "whale-path" or "swan road" for "sea," "God's beacon" for "sun," or "ring-giver" for "king." Although modern scholars consider these words to be metaphors, they were once believed to be based on fact. For example, the kenning "god's beacon" was probably based on the idea that the sun was a kind of lighted torch held up by God at dawn each day.
In modern English, the term is usually applied only to metonymical or metaphorical words used as substitutes for objects or ideas. For example, "the eagle's flight" could refer to an adventurous life. Or it could refer to the pursuit of wealth—which in this case would be the eagles' prey.
The old English word "kenning" was first recorded in English in 1225. It comes from the Old Norse word kennung, which means "to know." Thus, a kenning is a known thing, an understood reference.
In literature, kennings are often used to avoid using certain words. For example, if you wanted to talk about the sea but didn't want to use the word "water," you might say "a whale's path through water" instead.
This is due to the ocean's unique characteristics of providing a home for whales (whales) and transportation (road). A kenning is a metaphorical term that describes an object. It is a literary technique derived from Anglo-Saxon or Norse poetry. Today, kennings are used in fiction and non-fiction to describe something without using its actual name.
In English literature, there are two main types of kenning: descriptive and expressive. In a descriptive kenning, the poet uses alliteration and other sound patterns to give the impression of hearing or seeing something beautiful or fearsome. For example, "a whale of a tale" comes from this type of kenning. An expressive kenning does not describe what is seen or heard but instead expresses some aspect of it through metaphor or simile. For example, "burning fire" and "to sail into danger" are expressions used by many poets to describe dangerous situations.
People have used kennings to describe things about the ocean for hundreds of years. One of the first examples recorded in literature is from 10th century Icelandic sagas where authors would use phrases like "oceanic sea" or "great ocean" to describe large bodies of water even though these words were not yet named. Another early example can be found in The Seafarer by Dante Alighieri where he uses the phrase "floating world" to describe ships.
A kenning is a figure of speech, a two-word phrase that is used in place of a one-word noun. Kennings were initially employed in poetry in Anglo-Saxon and Norse. Many kennings are used in the renowned Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, such as body-bone-house. Sword-battle-light. The word "kennel" comes from the same source (Anglo-Saxon).
Body-bone-house. These three kennings appear in the poem Beowulf. They describe events in the life of the hero Beowulf. A body means a human being; a bone refers to a sword; and a house symbolizes a kingdom or society. Using this language, the poet is saying that something important happened to a great man, in a famous battle, at a time when people needed courage.
There are other kennings used in the poem, such as glory-bearer-noble, strength-born-renown, and young-warrior-prince. All of these words have different meanings but they can be replaced by a kenning because they describe the same event: a heroic action.
Glory means fame or reputation, bearer means someone who carries something for others, noble means good or virtuous, strength means power or ability, born means created, renown means public recognition.