Notes: Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”


“Lode or Matrix”

“a bench of land”

“creek looked like a path of basalt”

“human bodies sprawled in every attitude”


PIEDMONT: the plateau between the coastal plain/…/An area of land formed or lying at the foot of a mountain or mountain range.

“trees burning like heathen candles”

MACADAM: broken stone in pavement

ASPHALT MASTIC: A mixture of asphalt with sand, asbestos, crushed rock, or similar material; used like cement.

SKEIN: loose coils, as in “skeins of ash and slurry”

…migratory birds: “Their half muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl.”

“All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain.”

MUCONIUM: thick, dark green mucoid material that is the first feces of a newborn child

RACHITIC: rickety; affected with, suffering from, or characteristic of rickets

“he could see no worse with his eyes shut”

SIWASH: properly a First Nations man, but sometimes used for women as well. Nowadays considered extremely derogatory but still in use…

“a rim of shelving ice”

PALISADE: trees lined up like fence posts

“where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them”

CHEROOT: a cigar with both ends cut flat

“The reptilian calculations in those cold and shifting eyes. The gray and rotting teeth. Claggy with human flesh. Who has made of the world a lie every word.”

QUOITS: a game in which iron rings (or open iron rings) are thrown at a stake in the ground in hope of encircling it.

“The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves.”

SEDGE: grasslike or rushlike plant growing in wet places having solid stems, narrow grasslike leaves and spikelets of inconspicuous flowers

KERF: width of a saw cut

“What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.”

GELID: arctic; extremely cold

KRUGERRAND: South African gold coin, first minted in 1967 in order to help market South African gold.

“He thought perhaps they’d come to warn him. Of what? That he could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own.”

“Sketched upon the pall of soot downstream the outline of a burnt city like a black paper scrim.”

SHILL: a decoy

“He crouched and watched the day accrue.”


CHARY: cagey: characterized by great caution and wariness

“The dark serpentine of a dead vine running down it like the track of some enterprise upon a graph.”

“He was gone longer than he’d meant to be and he hurried his steps the best he could, the water swinging and gurgling in the shrunken swag of his gut.”

PALIMPSEST: a manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing completely erased and still visible.

CHERT: variety of silica containing microcrystalline quartz

“Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”

“They plodded on, thin and filthy as street addicts. Cowled in their blankets against the cold and their breath smoking, shuffling through the black and silky drifts. They were crossing the broad coastal plain where the secular winds drove them in howling clouds of ash to find shelter where they could. Houses or barns or under the bank of a roadside ditch with the blankets pulled over their heads and the noon sky black as the cellars of hell. He held the boy against him, cold to the bone. Don’t lose heart, he said. We’ll be all right.”

MIDDEN: dung heap

KUDZU: fast-growing vine from Eastern Asia having tuberous starchy roots and hairy trifoliate leaves and racemes of purple flowers…

CAIRN: a mound of stones piled up as a memorial or to mark a boundary or path.

PATTERAN: any of several coded signs left along a road on a non-Roma house by one Rom comrade to another. The most common ones consist of crossed sprigs (usually of different trees or shrubs) indicating, for example, a direction traveled.

JACKSTRAW: a thin strip of wood

“A man sat on a porch in his coveralls dead for years.”


LOGGIA: a roofed arcade or gallery with open sides stretching along the front or side of a building; often at an upper level.

KNURLED: full of knots; gnarled; milled, as the head of a screw, or the edge of a coin.

“The pistol lying to hand like another dining implement.”

SEA OATS: a type of grass that grows along the East Coast of the US, Mexico, and islands in the Caribbean…

ISOCLINE: a series of lines with the same slope

STANCHION: any vertical post or rod used as support


MAE WEST: an inflatable life jacket

CLERESTORY: part of an interior wall rising above the adjacent roof with windows admitting light.

BAIZE: a bright green fabric napped to resemble felt; used to cover gaming tables.

GIMBALED: supported on gimbals and remaining steady or level when the base tips.

BINDLE: the bag, sack, or carrying device stereotypically used by American hobos…

TRAVOIS: made of two long poles, uneven in length, attached with leather straps to either a horse or a dog.


One response to “Notes: Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”

  1. I have heard many praises sung of “The Road” and I mean eventually to read it. The verbal collage you have written here is intriguing and chilling. Such motifs of isolation, despair, and of nature’s cruel indifference are among the most fascinating and emotionally salient for me, and I am glad that thoughtful–if brooding–literature exists to properly convey them. Kudos, too, on your at-a-glance snapshot.

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