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a sky candle i.e. the sun as an example of kenning in writing

What is a Kenning in Writing? Examples, Definitions, and How to Create Them

a sky candle i.e. the sun as an example of kenning in writing

A kenning in writing is a humorous twoword phrase used to describe something without using its name. It is often used to add a creative element to writing and to make a play on words. For example, a kenning for a bicycle could betwowheeled steed.

Definition and Origin of Kennings

A kenning is a figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, particularly in Old Norse and Old English poetry. It serves as a metaphorical description, adding depth and color to the language. Kennings are often formed by combining two words, creating a vivid and memorable image that indirectly refers to the object or concept.

The word “kenning” comes from the Old Norse word “kenna,” which means “to know” or “to recognize.” Kennings were frequently used in Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon literature to create striking imagery and add layers of meaning to the text.

How to Create Kennings in Writing

Using kennings in writing can add a touch of creativity and playfulness to your work. Here are some tips for creating and incorporating kennings into your writing:

1. Identify the Object or Concept to Describe

To create a kenning, first identify the object or concept you want to describe. This could be an everyday item, a natural phenomenon, or an abstract idea. The goal is to create a vivid and memorable image that captures the essence of the subject.

2. Use Figurative Language

Kennings rely on figurative language and metaphor to create a striking image. Think of ways to describe the object or concept using metaphorical language. This may involve drawing comparisons between the subject and something else, or finding a creative way to describe its characteristics.

3. Combine Two Words

Kennings are typically compound expressions, combining two words to create a new meaning. Choose two words that, when combined, create a vivid and memorable image. This may involve using a hyphen, or simply placing the words side by side.

Kennings in Literature and Poetry

Kennings have a long history in literature, particularly in Old Norse and Old English poetry. Some notable examples include:

  • The Old English epic poem “Beowulf” contains many examples of kennings, such as “whale-road” for the sea and “sky-candle” for the sun.
  • In Old Norse poetry, kennings were often used to describe gods and heroes, such as “Odin’s steed” for a horse or “Thor’s hammer” for lightning.

While kennings are less common in modern literature, they can still be used to add a creative and playful touch to writing.

Examples of Kennings

To better understand kennings and how they can be used in writing, here are some examples:

  1. “Book-worm” – A term used to describe someone who loves to read.
  2. “Word-temple” – A creative way to describe a library or a place filled with books.
  3. “Mind-forged manacles” – A phrase coined by William Blake in his poem “London,” which refers to the psychological constraints people impose upon themselves.
  4. “Feathered-hunter” – A kenning for a bird of prey, such as an eagle or a hawk.

Conclusion: Embrace Kennings for Creative and Playful Writing

Incorporating kennings into your writing can add a layer of creativity, playfulness, and metaphorical depth. By creating vivid and memorable images, you can capture the essence of an object or concept in a unique and engaging way.

So, don’t be afraid to experiment with kennings and explore the potential of figurative language. With a bit of imagination and a keen sense of metaphor, you can create kennings that will not only enliven your writing but also delight and engage your readers. Happy kenning-making!

If you’re thirsty for more writing knowledge, head over here to learn all 74 literary devices.

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