List of kennings

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A kenning (Old Norse kenning [cʰɛnːiŋɡ], Modern Icelandic [cʰɛnːiŋk]) is a circumlocution used instead of an ordinary noun in Old Norse, Old English and later Icelandic poetry.

This list is not intended to be comprehensive. Kennings for a particular character are listed in that character's article. For example, the Odin article links to a list of names of Odin, which include kennings. Only a few examples of Odin's kennings are given here. For a scholarly list of kennings see Meissner's Die Kenningar der Skalden (1921) or some editions of Snorri Sturluson's Skáldskaparmál

Source language abbreviations[edit]

  • OE - Old English
  • D - Danish
  • G - Germanic
  • Ic - Old Icelandic
  • N - Norse
  • ON - Old Norse
  • Nor - Norwegian
  • S - Swedish

List of Kennings[edit]

Primary Meaning Kenning Translated Original Kenning Explanation Source Language Example
axe blood-ember N
battle spear-din N Snorri Sturluson Skaldskaparmal
blood slaughter-dew N
blood battle-sweat One reference for this kenning comes from the epic poem, Beowulf. As Beowulf is in fierce combat with Grendel's Mother, he makes mention of shedding much battle-sweat. N Beowulf
blood wound-sea svarraði sárgymir N Eyvindr Skáldaspillir Hákonarmál 7).
chieftain or king breaker of rings Alludes to a ruler breaking the golden rings upon his arm and using them to reward his followers. OE Beowulf
death sleep of the sword OE Beowulf
death flame-farewelled Implicitly honourable death N
fire bane of wood grand viðar ON Snorri Sturluson Skáldskaparmál 36
wife girl of the houses sól húsanna ON Snorri Sturluson Skáldskaparmál 36
gold seeds of the Fyris Wolds Fýrisvalla fræ Hrólf Kraki spread gold on the Fyris Wolds to distract the men of the Swedish king N Eyvindr Skáldaspillir Lausavísa 8
gold serpent's lair Serpents (and dragons) were reputed to lie upon gold in their nests N Skáldskaparmál
gold Sif's hair Derived from the story of when Loki cut off Sif's hair. In order to amend his crime, Loki had the dwarf Dvalin make new hair for Sif, a wig of gold that grew like normal hair. N Skáldskaparmál
gold Kraki's seed Hrólf Kraki spread gold on the Fyris Wolds to distract the men of the Swedish king. Can also be used to imply generosity; q.v. Hrólf Kraki N Skáldskaparmál
gold, sometimes amber Freyja's tears Derived from the story of when Freyja could not find Óðr, her husband, the tears she shed were gold, and the trees which her tears fell upon were transmuted into amber. N
honour mind's worth weorðmyndum OE Beowulf
hook bait-gallows Ic Flateyjarbok
kill enemies Feed the eagle Killing enemies left food for the eagles S Gripsholm Runestone
Loki wolf's father an allusion to Loki's fathering of Fenrir N Lokasenna
Loki father of the sea thread Loki was the father of Jörmungandr, the Midgard serpent N Þórsdrápa
mistletoe Baldur's bane The kenning derives from the story in which all plants and creatures swore never to harm Baldur save mistletoe, which, when it was overlooked, Loki used to bring about Baldur's death by tricking Hodur. N
Mjollnir, Thor's hammer Hrungnir's slayer Hrungnir was a giant whose head was smashed by a blow from Mjollnir N Lokasenna
Odin Lord of the gallows See the separate page List of names of Odin for more Odin kennings N
Odin Hanged god Odin hung on the Tree of Knowledge for nine days in order to gain wisdom. N
poetry Grímnir's lip-streams Grímnir is one of the names of Odin N Þórsdrápa
raven swan of blood ravens ate the dead at battlefields N
the sea whale-road hron-rād N,OE Beowulf 10: "In the end each clan on the outlying coasts beyond the whale-road had to yield to him and begin to pay tribute"
the sea sail road seġl-rād OE Beowulf 1429 b
the sea whale's way hwæl-weġ N,OE The Seafarer 63 a; Beowulf
the sea swan-road swan-rād OE Beowulf 200 a
serpent valley-trout N Skaldskaparmal
shield headland of swords sverða nesi There is a connection to the word "nesa" meaning subject to public ridicule/failure/shame, i.e. "the failure/shame of swords", not only "where the sword first hits/ headland of swords" Kennings can sometimes be a triple entendre. N þorbjörn Hornklofi: Glymdrápa 3
ship wave-swine unnsvín N
ship sea-steed gjálfr-marr N Hervararkviða 27; Skáldskaparmál
sky Ymir’s skull Ymis haus N Arnórr jarlaskáld Magnúsdrápa 19
the sun sky-candle heofon-candel OE Exodus 115 b
the sun sky's jewel heofones ġim OE The Phoenix 183
the sun glory of elves álf röðull álf röðull (alfrodull), meaning "glory-of-elves" refers both to the chariot of the sun goddess Sól and to the rider (the sun herself). N Skírnismál Vafþrúðnismál
sword blood-worm N
sword icicle of blood N
sword wound-hoe ben-grefill N Egill Skallagrímsson: Höfuðlausn 8
sword onion of war ímun-laukr Or leek of war N Eyvindr Skáldaspillir Lausavísa 8
Thor slayer of giants, basher of trolls felli fjörnets goða flugstalla felli fjörnets goða flugstalla is a compound kenning. Literally feller of the life webs (fjörnets) of the gods of the flight-edges, i.e. slayer of giants, life webs (fjörnets) is a kenning in its own right since it refers directly to the operations of the Norns in severing lives, flight-edges (flugstalla) being the high and dangerous places inhabited by eagles and hawks, i.e. the icy mountains of Jotunheim. N Þórsdrápa

Norse Mythology

war weather of weapons N Skaldskaparmal
warrior feeder of ravens grennir gunn-más “feeder of war-gull” = “feeder of raven” = “warrior” Ravens feed on dead bodies left after a battle. N Þorbjörn Hornklofi: Glymdrápa
warrior destroyers of eagle’s hunger eyðendr arnar hungrs “destroyers of eagle’s hunger” = “feeders of eagle” = “warrior” Eagles, also, feed on dead bodies left after a battle. N Þorbjörn Þakkaskáld: Erlingsdrápa 1
waves Ægir's daughters Ægir had nine daughters called billow maidens who were personifications of the waves. N
wind breaker of trees N
wolf Gunnr's horse Gunnr is a valkyrie S Rök Stone
wrist wolf's-joint úlfliðr An allusion to Tyr's loss of his hand when fettering the wolf Fenrir Ic Gylfaginning

References[edit]