Tag Archives: representation

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.