kenning is a figurative expression that replaces a name or a noun. Often it is a compound of two words and the words are hyphenated. Kennings are usually associated with Old Norse, Icelandic, and Anglo Saxon poetry.

Modern Examples of Kennings

  • Ankle-biter = a very young child
  • Bean counter = a CPA or accountant
  • Bookworm = someone who reads a lot
  • Brown noser = person who does anything to gain approval
  • Fender bender = slight car accident
  • First Lady – wife of the president
  • Four-eyes = someone who wears glasses
  • Head twister = owl
  • Hot potato = something no one wants
  • Mind-reader = A person who knows what you are thinking
  • Motor mouth = person who talks a lot and/or fast
  • Pencil pusher = person with a clerical job
  • Pig-skin = a football
  • Postman chaser = dog
  • Rug rat = toddler or crawling baby
  • Show-stopper = performance receiving long applause
  • Tree hugger = an environmentalist
  • Tree swinger = monkey
  • Tummy slider = penguin

Kennings Related to Weather

  • Boreas’s burning = snow blindness
  • Elf-glory = the sun
  • Feather’s fall = falling snow
  • Frozen road = ice-covered river
  • Northern kiss = cold wind
  • Ship of night = the moon
  • Sky-candle = sun
  • Sky’s black cloak = nightfall
  • Thor’s laughter = thunder
  • Weather of wolves = harsh winter
  • White death = killed by an avalanche
  • Winter’s blade = cold wind
  • Winter’s blanket = snow
  • Winter spear = icicle

Kennings Related to Battle

  • Battle metal = weapons
  • Battle-sweat = blood
  • Black song = reaver’s war cry
  • Blood-ember = axe
  • Bone-beak = axe
  • Dew of slaughter = blood
  • Feeding the eagle = killing enemies
  • Light-of-battle = sword
  • Mind’s worth = honor
  • Toast of ravens = blood
  • Traveling the Hel road = dying
  • War needles = arrows
  • Weather of weapons = large-scale battle
  • Wound-hoe = sword

Kennings Related to People

  • Bear shirt = berserker (Norse warrior)
  • Bringer of rings = chieftain or king
  • Children of battle = soldiers
  • Feller of the life-webs = slayer
  • Feeder of eagles/ravens = warrior
  • Fire beater = smith
  • Forseti’s favored = diplomat
  • Girl of the houses = wife
  • Lord of laughter = composer, poet or Norse god Loki
  • Ring giver = chief
  • Rune caller = wizard
  • Shield-gnawer = berserker (Norse warrior)
  • Slayer of giants = Thor

Miscellaneous Kennings

  • Balder’s gift = mistletoe
  • Bane of wood = fire
  • Branches of fjord = ship
  • Dragon’s bile = poison
  • Draught of giants = sudden realization
  • Forseti’s failure = unjust decisions
  • Frigg’s lapse = mistletoe
  • Lindworm claws = skates
  • Mimir’s warning = prophecy of doom
  • Mind’s worth = honor
  • Odin’s furrows = runes
  • Ribs of Ull = skis
  • Ring-rich = a generous person
  • Serpent’s lair = gold
  • Sindri’s gift = wealth
  • Strong brew = mistletoe as an ingredient
  • Uncut thread = destiny to be fulfilled
  • Wind racers = horses
  • Wolf’s joint = wrist
  • Ancestor’s watch = a stone circle
  • Green clearing = shaman’s gathering place
  • Swan-road = the sea
  • Valley-trout = serpent
  • Wave-swine = ship
  • Whale-road = the ocean
  • Whale-way = the sea

As you can see from these examples, kennings have been used, and are still used, as a form of verbal shorthand.

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