First, though, kennings apparently were grouped in four different ways. There was the hyphenated version, which we see the most. That included such terms as “whale-road,” referring to the sea. A second format was the non-hyphenated version, which was simply two descriptive words that together formed a single reference. A third kenning style was in the possessive with the first word containing an apostrophe followed by an “s.” In the fourth arrangement, a preposition (such as “of”) was added in between two words. Sure, that all makes sense, doesn’t it?
It was a free-for-all when it came to making up kennings. Perhaps there was a competition among the monks and poets to be ever more creative with their use of words. One might refer to the body as a “bone-chamber” while another would call it a “bone-container.”
Some kennings were more alliterative, meaning they didn’t name an object but rather a “sense” of something. In Beowulf, one such term “night-helmet” referred to the cover of darkness.
The formula here is broken down into:
Darkness is related to night as a helmet is related to cover.
Now, there’s a fun challenge to create a new vocabulary of metaphors using some of today’s words.