Wednesday, 04 May 2005

Life in the Kenning-Factory, or the Blatant Vikingism of the Average Male Ten minutes from now in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Mrs. A. Cephalous will be listening to talks about the breakdown of communication in medieval Iberian literature. A little this about the Arabiya Movement in al-Andalus. A little that about Iberian translations of the Ausias March. She loves the simple, quiet beauties of medieval Spanish, the sensuous way its arabesques slip off the tongue, but soon enough she'll want to leave. Across the hall, maybe, or maybe across the campus. She'll flit from the room, then the building. With each step the cold will snap her delicate ears and bite her fragile lungs, but eventually she'll find him. She'll rustle through her purse and pull out her glasses, tortoise-shell, thin-framed, and stare at the sign. She's waited so long to see these words, longer still to hear them. Through the door she'll see him hunched over the podium, shuffling his papers, visibly nervous, nearly knocking over his water bottle once, then again. He clears his throat, and in a voice higher and thinner than she expected, he begins: "The paper I will read this morning is 'The Icelandic Peace Corpse: A Socially Sensible Slaughter...'" I intended to write a brief introduction to substantial commentary on the discussion, over at languagehat, about the High Icelandic language center (or Miðstöð háfrónska tungumálsins) and its manifesto. The connection? Mrs. A. Cephalous would love little more than to live in a world in which "obsolete Old Norse vocabulary [is] ressurected." For A. Cephalous, former linguistics major, the main attraction is where that resurrection will be produced: the kenningasmiðja or "kenning-factory." The author of the movement identified himself on languagehat as Jef Braekmans, and not only has he invented numerous "modern kennings," he solicits visitors to the site to send kennings of their own invention to add the already impressive kenningaskra he's compiled. Here are some examples and literal translations. Entertain yourself and loved ones by guessing what they mean. Answers in the comments. haðarrúnir: "the runes of the blind god Höður," illsviti Haralds: "the bad omen of Harold" ragnasveppur: "the mushroom belonging to the gods, makers and rulers of the universe." þórsilmur: "the sweet odor of Thor" nornasáldin: "the sieve of life" Finally, I wanted to point out the oddly unscientific and antiquated definition of "Viking" in the Oxford English Dictionary: "One of those Scandinavian adventurers who practised piracy at sea and committed depredations on land." The British, it would appear, still hold a grudge: 1838 Crichton, Scandinavia I. 176 Hákon commanded the intrepid Vikingr to be put to death. 1848 Lytton, Harold VI. v, A fleet of vikings from Norway ravaged the western coasts. 1864 [H.W. Wheelwright] Spring & Summer in Lapland i. 8 When the ‘Viking’ or pirate vessel..bore the ‘Vikinger’ or dreaded sea pirate to the opposite shores of Britain. 1867 Freeman, Norm. Conq. (1877) The wikings harried far and wide. 1883 Vigfusson & Powell, Corpus Poet. Bor. II. 139 The warden of the land had the heads of many Wickings (pirates) cut short...

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