Type of circumlocution found in Old Norse & Icelandic poems.

What is it?

Typically found in the form of a compound that employs figurative language in place of a more concrete single-word noun.

How was it used?

They could be turned into extended and sometimes vivid metaphors. tröddusk törgur fyr [...] hjalta harðfótum“shields were trodden under the hard feet of the hilt"

Most Old Norse kennings covered a small set of topics, using a small set of traditional metaphors. However, word order was freer in Old Norse than it is in Modern English so Old Nordic poets had more freedom with how to use kennings than poets today.


John Steinbeck used kennings in his novella Burning Bright. The kennings or compound phrases were similar to the Old English use of kennings.

According to Steinbeck's biographer Jay Parini, "The experiment is well-intentioned, but it remains idiosyncratic to the point of absurdity. Steinbeck invented compound phrases such as "wife-loss" and "friend-right" and "laughter-starving," that simply seem eccentric."