What Is the Difference Between and Epithet and a Kenning?

the difference between epithets and kennings

Differentiating Between Epithets and Kennings


Okay, let's try to differentiate between Epithets and Kennings. It's tough when this stuff is so similar.

What is an Epithet (in the literary sense)?


Epithet (plural epithets) - the "literary" epithet definitions are as follows:

1. A term used to characterize a person or thing
The adjective "Terrible" in Ivan the Terrible.


2. A term used as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person. 
The Young Pretender for Charles Edward Stuart.

What is a Kenning?


Kenning (plural, kennings) is similar - a kenning is a kind of epithet, like a simile is a kind of metaphot; I'd say the difference is in directness.


kenning- use of a roundabout phrase for a common thing, eg 'whale's land' for 'sea'. It was very common in Anglo-Saxon verse. It is a type of circumlocution, in the form of a compound that employs figurative language in place of a more concrete single-word noun.

A Break Down of the Nuanced Differences Between Kennings and Literary Epithets


The kenning, in this example "whale's land", is a twist of meaning; it's less obvious, less direct.

The epithet, in this example "The Young Pretender", is merely a substitute; it's a more obvious replacement.

In a sense, you could say a kenning is more "poetic;" whereas an epithet is more useful in prose or public rhetoric.

Practice: Let's Make Some Kennings and Epithets

Let's pick a noun. Say "tea" (I love tea!)

Kenning version of the word tea might be something like the "herb's liquid essence" or "plant-blood" as in "I sip the piping plant-blood to renew my energy."

Spooky! Dramatic!

The epithet of tea might be to call a brand like Barry's "THE Tea of Ireland," as a means of saying that PG Tips is *not* the tea of Ireland. (Barry's versus PG Tips is a big thing, apparently...I'm way into Wegman's brand black and green teas, to be honest. No dog in that fight.)

Your turn! Can you think up some good kennings and epithets? Good luck!

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