One of the things that makes Old English poetry unique is the use of kennings, a linguistic feature that is most popular in Old English and Norse, where instead of simply saying a word, you allude to it in a roundabout and clever way, typically in the form of two hyphenated words. While it may seem to you that kennings have fallen out of use, this isn’t actually the case, and kennings still abound in English, for example:
Pencil-pusher- a clerk or office worker
Four-eyes- a bespectacled person
Breadwinner- someone whose salary supports the family
Skyscraper- a very tall tower
There are many more examples of modern kennings, but it’s interesting to see how the Anglo-Saxons of old used their wit to come up with kennings, often resulting in ones that are very hard to guess, unless you’re already familiar with them.
1. Battle Sweat
As many of the Old English and Norse poems were about great warriors, many of the kennings were about battle and war.
2. Bone House
3. Falcon's Perch
Can you imagine raising your falcon's perch?
4. Head forest
Kennings weren't used exclusively for things relating to battle, and even the most trivial things had kennings to describe them.
5. Land Trout
Apparently, to the old Germanic people, snakes looked like terrestrial fish.
6. Mouth Oar
7. Ring Giver
In the early middle ages, it was customary for lords to pay their retainers in rings.
8. Heaven's Candle
9. Snake's Sorrow
This seasonal kenning no doubt comes from the observation that snakes are far less frequent a sight during the cold days of winter.
10. Vulture Feeder
A soldier's job is to kill foes, consequently creating corpses for the vultures to feed on.
11. War Board
12. War Leek
We admit the resemblance escapes us.
13. Whale Road
14. Word House
Wouldn’t it be fun to make up kennings for modern things those Anglo Saxons and Vikings wouldn’t have been familiar with? Here are some we came up with. Can you think up ones of your own?
15. Frost Tower
16. Horseless Carriage
17. Serpent Cat
18. Thunder Snake