Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry; for example, storm of swords is a kenning for battle.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The tread of an egg; cicatricula.
  • n. A metaphorical phrase used in Germanic poetry (especially Old English or Old Norse) whereby a simple thing is described in an allusive way, such as ‘whale road’ for ‘sea’, or ‘enemy of the mast’ for ‘wind’.
  • n. Sight; view; a distant view at sea.
  • n. Range or extent of vision, especially at sea; (by extension) a marine measure of approximately twenty miles.
  • n. As little as one can recognise or discriminate; a small portion; a little.
  • v. Present participle of ken.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Range of sight.
  • n. The limit of vision at sea, being a distance of about twenty miles.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Sight; view; especially, a distant view at sea.
  • n. Range or extent of vision, especially at sea; hence, a marine measure of about twenty miles.
  • n. As little as one can recognize or discriminate; a small portion; a little: as, put in a kenning of salt.
  • n. The cicatricula or tread of an egg. Also kinning.
  • n. In Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and other old Teutonic poetry, a distinctive poetical name, usually periphrastic in form, used in addition to, or substituted for, the usual name of a thing or person.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. conventional metaphoric name for something, used especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry

Etymologies

Old Norse, from kenna, to know, to name with a kenning; see gnō- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From ken ("to beget, bring forth"). (Wiktionary)
From Old Norse, from kenna ("know, perceive"), from Proto-Germanic *kannijanan, causative of *kunnanan (“to know how”). Compare can, ken, keen. (Wiktionary)
From Middle English, derivative of Middle English kennen ("to know, perceive"). Compare Danish kjending ("acquaintance"). More at ken. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • A kenning is actually instead of a name, rather than in addition to (as I just discovered by looking it up with excessive help from Catzilla): "a figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry; for example, storm of swords is a kenning for battle."

    mrissa: Also

  • The word kenning is derived from the Old Norse phrase kenna ett vid, which means “to express a thing in terms of another”, and is found throughout Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic literature.

    KENNINGS

  • In literature, a kenning is a magic poetic phrase, a figure of speech, substituted for the usual name of a person or thing.

    KENNINGS

  • I think I'd go with Kevin Crossley-Holland's view that a kenning is a condensed riddle, though that's really saying much the same thing as a riddle being an extended kenning.

    Old English Riddles - a thousand years of double entendre

  • I find myself curiously reluctant to construct a kenning for myself, actually.

    mrissa: Also

  • I like 'Mighty-sinewed chemist's daughter' myself, though I suspect that's not a kenning because it's, y'know.

    mrissa: Also

  • The kenning, a metaphorical compound-word or phrase, is a descriptive stand-in for a noun.

    Poem of the week: A Trace of Wings by Edwin Morgan

  • These "clues" in turn suggest the Anglo-Saxon/Old Norse kenning, reminding us that Morgan was a fine translator of Beowulf.

    Poem of the week: A Trace of Wings by Edwin Morgan

  • I missed Stella, missed her there beside me, missed the comfort of our kenning conversations.

    Ancient, Strange, and Lovely

  • I tried listening for the critter in the kenning way, tried to feel him down through all the decks.

    Ancient, Strange, and Lovely

Comments

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  • Kenning I now finally understand the lines from one of the stanzas of Michael Drayton's "Ode to the Virginian Voyage":

    In kenning of the shore,
    Thanks to God first given,
    O you, the happiest men,
    Be frolic then!
    Let cannons roar
    Frighting the wide heaven.

    In other words, as you come within sight of the shore, celebrate!

    I also remember examples of Norse and Anglo-Saxon kennings, such as "thong of the footpath" for snake, and "sorrow of the thong of the footpath" for winter, which snakes don't like.

    May 29, 2013


  • Similar to "offing," the portion of sea visible from the shore," or " the near and forseeable future."

    May 28, 2013

  • "Her nose was fine and her brows were dusky, like smoke, like the lower world's kenning for 'forest', seaweed of the hills."
    Ragnarök by A.S. Byatt, p 46

    May 3, 2012

  • Also (archaic), the amount of distance that can be seen across:

        They tooke a path that steepe upryght
    Rose darke and full of foggye mist.  And now they were within
    A kenning of the upper earth, when Orphye did begin
    Too dowt him least shee followed not, and through an eager love
    Desyrous for too see her, he his eyes did backward move.
    Immediatly shee slipped backe.
    —Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Arthur Golding, 1567

    August 16, 2009

  • "Beowulf, leader of the host unlatched his word-hoard"

    May 28, 2008