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Author Topic: Poetic language  (Read 5152 times)


  • Ealdormann
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Poetic language
« on: February 15, 2018, 08:29:51 PM »
Anglo-Saxon poetry appears to have some vocabulary which is uncommon or even non-existent in prose. Some really are obscure and one or two the poets might even have made up. However others seem to have a well-established history and I wonder why they do not appear more in prose.

Compound words and kennings are more common in poetry. I have been told that kennings were mainly used to get the right letter for the alliteration but this does not seem to be the case. For example in Bēowulfwe get
bāncofa, bānfæt, bānhūs and bānloca for body, what would be wrong with bodiġ
swanrād for sea, what would be wrong with sǣ.


  • Guest
Re: Poetic language
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2018, 08:34:59 PM »
As an oral (poetic) tradition, my suspicion would be that the kennings could have some function as a mnemonic (possibly why they don't crop up as much in prose). Also, whilst they can aid alliteration, I can see how the audience might have enjoyed a particularly clever kenning, much as in the way they would enjoy a riddle. Certainly, the poetry would be far less interesting without the kennings.

I do wonder how much of this style made its way into everyday speech or if it was completely separate...


  • gesith
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  • Posts: 83
Re: Poetic language
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2018, 02:21:26 PM »
Kennings are of course very much part of our everyday speech. Bean counters, pen pushers and rugrats are three acceptable ones to mention, but they are very often vulgar slang. Anyone familiar with Barry McKenzie in Private Eye in the 1970s will recall that he had an especially rich and inventive kenning vocabulary which I will not repeat here lest I give offense !