I wasn’t familiar with this word before (except in its Scots form to ken, to know). It has its origins in the Old Norse phrase kenna eitt við, which means “to express a thing in terms of another”. It is a literary device used in Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic poetry to make new compound words or phrases that force you to stop and think.
Here’s some examples I’ve found:
THE SEA — whale road A WARRIOR — shield-tester BLOOD — battle sweat BODY — bone house SUN — sky candle
icelandic manuscript, about 1350 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Kenning doesn’t happen that often in modern English but when it works, it really works and it’s an excellent vehicle for sarcasm. See for yourself.
TODDLERS — rug rats OVER RELIGIOUS PEOPLE — bible thumpers/ sky pilots HORRIBLE TATTOOS — tramp-stamps ATTRACTIVE GIRL — eye candy LAZY PERSON — couch potato
And I found this out doing something that is best described by another modern kenning – web surfing.