"All the Pretty Horses," Vocabulary from Part 1 50 words

The first volume of The Border Trilogy, "All The Pretty Horses" is Cormac McCarthy's take on the allure of freedom. Two people run away to be cowboys, but find they can't leave their former selves behind.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
  1. forebear
    a person from whom you are descended
    Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscotting.
  2. veneer
    coating consisting of a thin layer of superior wood glued to a base of inferior wood
    He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer.
  3. mantel
    shelf that projects from wall above fireplace
    Inside the house there was no sound save the ticking of the mantel clock in the front room.
  4. prairie
    a treeless grassy plain
    The landscape is often the focus of description in the novel. Being aware of the definitions of particular terrain and vegetation would make the reading experience of "All the Pretty Horses" richer, especially since McCarthy tends to use the landscape in metaphorical relations with the characters that navigate this terrain.
    He walked out on the prairie and stood holding his hat like some supplicant to the darkness over them all and he stood there for a long time.
  5. abate
    become less in amount or intensity
    The wind was much abated and it was very cold and the sun sat blood red and elliptic under the reefs of bloodred cloud before him.
  6. influenza
    an acute febrile highly contagious viral disease
    Twelve years later when his wife was carried off in the influenza epidemic they still had no children.
  7. swivel
    a coupling (as in a chain) that has one end that turns on a headed pin
    On the desk was a small brass calendar mounted on swivels that changed dates when you tipped it over in its stand.
  8. yoke
    link with or as with a yoke
    The word here is used figuratively. Many of McCarthy's descriptions enter the realm of poetry, using the mundane objects of the current landscape in order to connect them to something greater.
    The black crosses of the old telegraph poles yoked across the constellations passing east to west.
  9. splice
    join the ends of
    His grandfather said the Comanche would cut the wires and splice them back with horsehair.
  10. meek
    humble in spirit or manner; suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness
    The Good Book says that the meek shall inherit the earth and I expect that’s probably the truth.
  11. corral
    a pen for cattle
    There were half a dozen of them breaking through a pole corral and their manes were long and blowing and their eyes wild.
  12. mezzanine
    intermediate floor just above the ground floor
    He went up the stairs to the mezzanine and found Franklin’s name lettered in an arc across the pebbled glass of the door and took off his hat and turned the knob and went in.
  13. plateau
    a relatively flat highland
    Snow was falling in the San Saba when they crossed it and snow was falling on the Edwards Plateau and in the Balcones the limestone was white with snow and he sat watching out while the gray flakes flared over the windshield glass in the sweep of the wipers.
  14. usher
    someone employed to conduct others
    He thanked her and went in and tendered his ticket to an usher who led him over to the red carpeted stairs and handed him the ticket back.
  15. alcove
    a small recess opening off a larger room
    At the intermission he rose and put on his hat and went down to the lobby and stood in a gilded alcove and rolled a cigarette and stood smoking it with one boot jacked back against the wall behind him.
  16. firmament
    the apparent surface of the imaginary sphere on which celestial bodies appear to be projected
    He and Rawlins lay in the road where they could feel the heat coming off the blacktop against their backs and they watched stars falling down the long black slope of the firmament.
  17. conscience
    a feeling of shame when you do something immoral
    If you got a bad conscience just tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say it.
  18. brim
    a circular projection that sticks outward from the crown of a hat
    He stood back and touched the brim of his hat and turned and went on up the street.
  19. yonder
    at or in an indicated (usually distant) place (`yon' is archaic and dialectal)
    Why don't we lay up yonder and wait on him?
  20. chaff
    material consisting of seed coverings and small pieces of stem or leaves that have been separated from the seeds
    They lay in the dry chaff under the trees with their coats rolled up under their heads and their hats over their eyes while the horses grazed in the grass along the creekbed.
  21. graze
    feed as in a meadow or pasture
    They lay in the dry chaff under the trees with their coats rolled up under their heads and their hats over their eyes while the horses grazed in the grass along the creekbed.
  22. reckon
    deem to be
    How far is that do you reckon?
  23. bluff
    a high steep bank (usually formed by river erosion)
    They passed under a high limestone bluff where a creek ran down and they crossed a broad gravel wash.
  24. suture
    a seam used in surgery
    To the west a mile away ran a wire fence strung from pole to pole like a bad suture across the gray grasslands and beyond that a small band of antelope all of whom were watching them.
  25. myriad
    a large indefinite number
    The sandbar below them was thickly grown with willow and carrizo cane and the bluffs on the far side were stained and cavepocked and traversed by a constant myriad of swallows.
  26. shoal
    a sandbank in a stretch of water that is visible at low tide
    We can cross right down yonder off of that shoal, John Grady said.
  27. shallow
    lacking physical depth; having little spatial extension downward or inward from an outer surface or backward or outward from a center
    The kid was sitting the big bay horse in the shallow water off the gravel bar and looking across the river.
  28. slump
    fall or sink heavily
    Half a dozen low houses with walls of mud brick slumping into ruin.
  29. notch
    a V-shaped indentation
    Two of them were empty but the third was covered with the tin lid from a lardpail and the lid was notched to accommodate the handle of an enameled tin dipper.
  30. rivulet
    a small stream
    A thin blue rivulet of drainwater ran down the clay gully in front of the store and a goat stood in the rutted road looking at the horses.
  31. drought
    a shortage of rainfall
    The road was deeply gullied and it was washed out in the draws and in the draws were cattle dead from an old drought, just the bones of them cloven about with the hard dry blackened hide.
  32. wedge
    something solid that is usable as an inclined plane (shaped like a V) that can be pushed between two things to separate them
    Compare with "notch." They share a similar shape, but a notch is an opening and a wedge is a solid piece.
    Under it was a board supported by two wedges driven into the wall and on the board was a small green glass with a blackened candlestub in it.
  33. cauterize
    burn, sear, or freeze (tissue) using a hot iron or electric current or a caustic agent
    Rawlins eyed balefully that cauterized terrain.
  34. huddle
    crouch or curl up
    It was cold in the night and in the dawn before daylight when they woke Blevins was already up and had a fire going on the ground and was huddled over it in his thin clothes.
  35. desiccated
    thoroughly dried out
    What they dredged smoking out of the ground looked like some desiccated effigy from a tomb.
  36. alight
    lighted up by or as by fire or flame
    The change in his pocket burned through and fell out on the ground and set the grass alight.
  37. plumb
    completely; used as intensifiers
    Run plumb out of the country, called Rawlins.
  38. arroyo
    a stream or brook
    John Grady rode through the willows and down the arroyo following the occasional bare footprint in the rainspotted loam until he came upon Blevins crouched under the roots of a dead cottonwood in a caveout where the arroyo turned and fanned out onto the plain.
  39. impale
    pierce with a sharp stake or point
    Bye and bye they passed a stand of roadside cholla against which small birds had been driven by the storm and there impaled.
  40. serf
    (Middle Ages) a person who is bound to the land and owned by the feudal lord
    The drawers he wore were baggy and dirty and he did indeed look like some sad and ill used serf or worse.
  41. pluck
    pull or pull out sharply
    Rawlins twisted the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and plucked a match from his pocket and popped it alight with his thumbnail.
  42. bedlam
    a state of extreme confusion and disorder
    All out bedlam had broken across the lot.
  43. founder
    stumble and nearly fall
    If we don't founder on deermeat I’m a chinaman.
  44. heifer
    young cow
    I’ve seen them vaqueros worked for Blair cut a yearling heifer so thin you could see through the meat.
  45. carcass
    the dead body of an animal especially one slaughtered and dressed for food
    In the night the coyotes woke them and they lay in the dark and listened to them where they convened over the carcass of the deer, fighting and squalling like cats.
  46. squall
    make high-pitched, whiney noises
    In the night the coyotes woke them and they lay in the dark and listened to them where they convened over the carcass of the deer, fighting and squalling like cats.
  47. cull
    look for and gather
    This bunch has done been culled once up on the mesa, ain't it?
  48. totter
    move unsteadily, with a rocking motion
    He was chewing woodenly and half tottering on the bench.
  49. slight
    (quantifier used with mass nouns) small in quantity or degree; not much or almost none or (with `a') at least some
    She had blue eyes and she nodded or perhaps she only lowered her head slightly to better see what sort of horse he rode, just the slightest tilt of the broad black hat set level on her head, the slightest lifting of the long black hair.
  50. pendulum
    an apparatus consisting of an object mounted so that it swings freely under the influence of gravity
    The brass weights stirred behind the casement doors, the pendulum slowly swept.