Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

What is the definition of kenning?

The definition of kenning is a metaphorical compound phrase that stands in for a noun.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated October 25, 2022.

Kennings are compound phrases that can replace a noun. Kennings must have a figurative or metaphorical component—in fact, they are sometimes referred to as compressed metaphors. They are most often found in Old English and Old Norse literary works.

Kenning is an Old Norse word, derived from the Old Norse kenna, meaning “to know, to call.”

For example, “Battle-sweat” is a kenning from Beowulf that refers to blood. Other kennings from Beowulf include “world-fame,” “swan-road,” and “word-hoard.” 

It’s important to avoid misidentifying epithets as kennings. When the Beowulf poet uses “Son of Ecgtheow” to refer to Beowulf, this is not a kenning, as there is no figurative or metaphorical component.

see: epithet

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access