A kenning is a special kind of metaphor often used in Old Norse poetry, which is based on the interrelation of four concepts. For instance, if we say:

lo'e risna cu bu'a lo'e remna .ije lo'e matra cu bu'a lo'e karce

(a heart is to a human what a motor is to a car), we get four metaphors:

  • remna matra (risna)
  • karce risna (matra)
  • matra remna (karce)
  • risna karce (remna)

More thorough explanations can be found at and

Tanru are "binary compounds". Kennings are "compound metaphors", often of
two units & thus deceptively resembling the former. In tanru, the modifying
gismu limits the scope of the modified, or together they specify the area of
their overlap. A kenning paints a picture; one term sets the context, the
other makes a metaphorical substitution that suggests the referent WITHIN
this context (famous example: "tunafish is 'chicken of the sea'"). A kenning
is really a kind of naming (hence my me la). "Rug rats" does not mean
loltaxfu ratcu & it would be seriously misleading to turn this into a

Kennings: okay, then, there is one term which stands for--no, that's
a metaphor too--HAS AS ITS REFERENT the referent of another word we
have decided not to use, for poetic reasons. The choice of the substitute word depends (that means: 'hangs from' but REALLY--) upon either
phonic or associational considerations or both. It comes from,
in Old Norse usage, one well-defined semantic field such that the
choice of the second term creates a sense of paradox by coming from
a very different, or opposite, semantic field; & then there is the
(somewhat optional) additional requirement that these two terms are
unlike in a different way (usually, abstract/paticular) which creates
a second paradoxicalness. And there is an implied simile in the choice
of the first term but not the second, purely arbitrary one. (But it is
often more conventional a simile or even practically nonexistent in
resemblance to the untraditional mind.)--Anyway, those semantic & conceptual oppositions are not requirements in the expanded sense of
"kenning" i was using in order to include all the similar devices
across cultures. But most good ones have them to some degree. "Rug
Rats" for example combines something that a house is glad to have,
with something it isn't. "Skyscraper" is a good one (in english!)
for combining a solid with an ethereal, & alliterating.

Created by admin. Last Modification: Friday 30 of November, 2001 12:31:04 GMT by admin.