Modern-day examples of kennings include "fender bender" instead of car accident and "first lady" in place of the female spouse of a country's leader. A kenning is defined as a compressed metaphor, usually two or three words, that describe a common term.Continue Reading
Kennings originated in Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry. A "whale road" stood in for the term "sea." A boat was a "wave traveler." The epic poem "Beowulf" is one example of classic literature replete with classic kennings. "Battle-gear" was the kenning for armor and "light-of-battle" was a term for a sword.
Examples of kennings exist in contemporary language. "Brown noser" means someone who tries to overly impress another person. A "mind reader" stands in for a person who supposedly knows what someone else is thinking. "Four eyes" is a person who wears glasses. The phrase "pencil pusher" is an employee who has a desk job with a lot of book work.
Some poets specialize in kennings. Kevin Crossley-Holland describes a poet as a "word-finder" in his poem "Beachcomber." Judith Nicholls' poem "Bluebottle" utilizes kennings throughout her piece that is itself a large riddle. Polly Peters and Andrew Fusek Peters constructed two poems entirely made of short metaphors. These literary conventions are still used today despite their origins in ancient Norse literature.Learn more about Literary Writing