Kenning

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A kenning (Old Norse kenning, Modern Icelandic pronunciation [cʰɛnːiŋk]) is a type of literary trope, specifically circumlocution, in the form of a compound (usually two words, often hyphenated) that employs figurative language in place of a more concrete single-word noun. Kennings are strongly associated with Old Norse and later Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon poetry. For example, Old Norse poets might replace sverð, the regular word for “sword”, with a more abstract compound such as “wound-hoe” (Egill Skallagrímsson: Höfuðlausn 8), or a genitive phrase such as randa íss “ice of shields” (Einarr Skúlason: ‘Øxarflokkr’ 9). The term kenning has been applied by modern scholars to similar figures of speech in other languages too, especially Old English.

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Etymology

The word was adopted into English in the 19th century[1] from medieval Icelandic treatises on poetics, in particular the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, and derives ultimately from the Old Norse verb kenna “know, recognise; perceive, feel; show; teach; etc.”, as used in the expression kenna við “to name after; to express [one thing] in terms of [another]”,[2] “name after; refer to in terms of”,[3] and kenna til “qualify by, make into a kenning by adding”.[3]

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