Wednesday Word Tangle: The poetic use of a limited vocabulary

Olaf the Stone-Shaper carves a Valley-Trout

                                                               Olaf the Stone-Shaper carves a Valley-Trout

A limited vocabulary can be a grand thing.

Think about it. If some bright spark hadn’t invented the hybrid word television from the Greek tele – meaning far and the Latin visio – meaning seeing, we might have had to come up with a name for it from our existing vocabulary. How about ‘moving-picture-cabinet’ or ‘filled-with-rubbish-reality-and-talent-shows-on-a-Saturday-night-box’?

I remember hearing the argument once that Gaelic-speaking countries are so filled with poets and great writers because their native languages are limited to fewer words than a language like English. This means that the writer has been brought up to be more creative with words, making them stretch to cover new concepts and ideas.

Now, before all of you Manx, Irish, Scots and Welsh send me comments about how huge and florid and comprehensive your language is, it was just something I heard. Or more likely, saw on TV decades ago. So if it’s an untruth and I made it up in one of my late night stilton-cheese-and-pickled-onion-hallucinations, well – apologies.

I have discovered what these circumlocutions, these meandering, wandering turns of phrase are called. So, today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is,

KENNING.

A quick plunder of Google (and my word, this thread – nay – this entire blog wouldn’t be here without out) throws up some corkers. How about:

Spear din = Battle.

Slaughter dew = Blood.

Bane of wood = Fire.

Sleep of the sword = Death.

Girl of the houses = Wife.

Swan of blood = Raven.

Blood-worm = Sword.

Feeder of ravens or Destroyers of eagle’s hunger = Warriors.

I could ‒ and desperately want to ‒ go on.

I know many of these examples are a bit, well … gory. But then they’re taken from Old Norse, Icelandic and Old English, where the priority was being heroic in a helmet and slaying the many-headed-beastie with your favourite shin-biting blade. These old cold-weather Europeans weren’t into crochet or flower arranging, or I’m sure there’d be some KENNINGS related to those subjects too. Although, I wouldn’t mind betting they’d manage to sneak in some references to blood along the way.

And here are some original examples for you.

The sun is sitting down = Sunset.

Snowglass = Ice.

Fizzy fingers = Pins and needles.

These last three were all invented by my son, my sister-in-law and my younger brother – all when they were no more than two or three and taking their first stumbling steps on the road to fluent English. Lovely, aren’t they?

Kinda makes you wish our language wasn’t quite so comprehensive, doesn’t it?


Got any nice KENNINGS to add to the list? Did your child invent their own flowery phrase?

See Kittykat-bitsandbobs for the original W4W

For my own tribute to all things Old Norse, see The Legend of Bloodwolf  and Mengell the Foul

10 thoughts on “Wednesday Word Tangle: The poetic use of a limited vocabulary

    1. Thank you, love. I know – go to young kids for poetic phrases. Fizzy fingers- so apt to describe the sensation. Mind you, I think you need to catch them at the right age – by the time they’re a few years older, all they talk about is bums and farts. Or is that just my son? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nothing funnier than a young boy telling a fart joke – it’s how funny they find it themselves that’s the best.
        And my son loves grossness. I remember teaching him this rhyme from my own youth-
        ‘Yellow belly custard, green snot pie,
        All mixed together with a dead dog’s eye,
        Slap it on a butty, nice and thick,
        Swallow it down with a cold cup of sick!’
        I think it’s the thing my son has most appreciated me teaching him!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. My daughter used to tell me about the ‘story she made with her pillow’ when she woke up every morning. Now she tells me about her dreams.

    I love your Wednesday Word Tangle posts – I always learn something new 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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