Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

Kennings are Cool

Viking Dragon Ship from a Northumbrian manuscript

Kennings are a kind of word-play that originated back in Old English, Old Norse and Germanic poetry. Kennings create a new compound word or phrase that replaces another one. The best kennings are creative and make you think about something in a new way. Probably the most famous kenning from the olden days was using the phrase whale-road to talk about the sea. (Since a whale travels through the sea in the same sense that a man travels along a road.) Blood became slaughter-dew or battle-sweat, the sun becomes a sky-candle and a king is giver-of-gold. These were poetical phrases and we’ve lost some of the alliteration as the words are translated, but you can still see the beauty of the imagery in many of the old phrases. You can find a list of more Norse kennings here.

When I first read about these I thought they were the neatest thing. I’ve been writing a long time and I love witty word-play and that is what kennings are all about. I was a little bummed that we don’t have modern day kennings. This wouldn’t be the first time that my first impression was wrong because while I was looking for more kennings I came across this page from one Dr. Wheeler of Carson-Newman College and I saw that there are more kennings around us than we may first realize. Have you ever told a rug-rat to shut their pie-hole? Then you’ve used a kenning. Some other modern ones are beer-goggles, gas-guzzler, boob-tube, tramp-stamp, eye-candy, cancer-stick, fat-cat and wall-flower

Try making up some of your own and add them into the comments, but please, keep them clean, we don’t allow potty-mouths on the blog.

Posted by Mark Neumayer

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