Metaphor and The ‘Snow Farms’ Kenning

A while back I blogged about kennings, a kind of metaphor codified in The Prose Edda, the 13th century Icelandic epic by Snorri Sturluson. A kenning is a metaphor that replaces a proper name with a poetic description of what that person, place or thing is or does. For example, in ancient Icelandic verse, a sword is not a sword but an “icicle of blood”; a ship is not a ship but the “horse of the sea”; eyes are not eyes but the “moons of the forehead”. Though invented by ancient Icelandic bards, kennings are still quite common. We use them every day. Simple phrases such as ‘brain storm’ and ‘pay wall’ are basic kennings. And so is ‘snow farm,’ a kenning that’s increasingly used as a result of the recent spate of inclement weather. This NYTimes story describes the ‘snow farms’ springing up in Boston: “In Boston, where more than 60 inches have fallen since Christmas, plows are depositing excess at six ‘snow farms’—otherwise known as vacant lots—around the city … ‘We’re shoehorning the stuff anywhere we can put it,’ said John Isensee, the public works director in Lawrence, a seven-square-mile city that added eight inches to its snow piles Thursday.” Just goes to show you how in trying to describe something new we instinctively become 13th century Icelandic bards…

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Want to know more about metaphor? Check out I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, out on February 8.