Shibboleths in Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Here’s the list of words I had to look up while reading Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road. It’s a post-apocalyptic fiction, and I think the abundance of obscure words like these (well, they’re obscure to me) represents an element of the novel’s style, a reflection on both the precarity of representation and the compulsion to preserve it for an uncertain posterity — through and after the imagined end of representation as such. Many of these words read as shibboleths — obscure, antiquated, out-of-use words — and their use in The Road mirrors their use in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, in which the protagonist tries to recall and preserve English words for a radically post-human future. The difference is that while Atwood’s protagonist explicitly reflects on his archiving and on the fate of representation, McCarthy’s differently focalized narrative simply includes them, unremarked, so that they are left to stand and signify what they will, or won’t, like the numerous other emptied relics that litter The Road‘s wasted landscape. The effect is to put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes, reading one stark monochromatic field after another, in search of meaning, signs of life.

bollard, n.
breakfront, n.
catamite, n.
chary, adj.
chert, n.
chifforobe, n.
claggy, adj.
clerestory, adj.
collet, n.
cognate, n.
crozzled, adj.
dentil, adj.
discalced, adj.
dolmen, adj.
duff, n.
entabled, adj.
fescue, n.
godspoke, adj.
hydroptic, adj.
intestate, adj.
isocline, n.
isthmus, n.
kerf, n.
krugerrand, n.
lampblack, n.
lave, v.
loess, n.
paling, n.
palisade, n.
pampooties, n. pl.
piedmont, n.
pipeclayed, adj.
quoits, n.
rachitic, adj.
salitter, n.
scarpbolt, n.
siwash, adj.
sleaving, n.
sloe, n.
slutlamp, n.
stanchion, n.
tang, n.
torsional, adj.
travois, n.
vermiculate, adj.
wimple, v.
woad, n.

Advertisements

One response to “Shibboleths in Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

  1. You obviously didn’t take an intro to geology course as an undergraduate like I did. Many of the words are specific technical terms used to describe landscape and rocks.

    Others are Medieval or Native American terms.

    They simply show McCarthy’s desire for exact specificity without a regard for their lack of meaning to the general public.

    If you’d like to read another popular author who deals with the disastrous outcomes of society who loves obscure and obsolete words, I suggest Dean Koontz who is one of the few authors who drives me to a dictionary, and I know the meaning of more than 90% of the words listed above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s