Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of kenning?

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

Kenning

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Last Updated on October 25, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 114

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.

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

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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.” 

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Latest answer posted May 7, 2009, 12:33 am (UTC)

4 educator answers

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

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