"All the Pretty Horses," Vocabulary from Part 2

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

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. rein
    one of a pair of long straps used to control a horse
    She raised up and passed the reins over the horse’s head and put her foot in the stirrup and stood up into the saddle and turned the horse and rode down the bay and out the door.
  2. nimble
    moving quickly and lightly
    Rawlins executed a nimble ninestep stomp on the old board floor and stood grinning in the dust he’d raised.
  3. buttress
    make stronger or defensible
    The old adobe hall was buttressed along its outer walls with piers not all of which had been a part of its design and there were no windows and the walls were swagged and cracked.
  4. smolder
    burn slowly and without a flame
    Along the foot of the stage were lights set in fruitcans among colored crepe that smoldered throughout the night.
  5. whinny
    make a characteristic sound, of a horse
    When he untied his horse the other two tossed their heads and whinnied softly to go.
  6. absolve
    excuse or free from blame
    Yet every mare could be pled for on the basis of what they came to call la unica cosa and that one thing—which could absolve them of any but the grossest defect—was an interest in cattle.
  7. lush
    produced or growing in extreme abundance
    For he’d broken the more promising mares to ride and he’d take them upcountry through the cilnaga pasture where the cows and calves stood in the lush grass along the edge of the marshlands and he would show them the cows and let them move among them.
  8. marsh
    low-lying wet land with grassy vegetation
    For he’d broken the more promising mares to ride and he’d take them upcountry through the cilnaga pasture where the cows and calves stood in the lush grass along the edge of the marshlands and he would show them the cows and let them move among them.
  9. skein
    coils of worsted yarn
    Skeins of light off the water played upon the black hide of the horse.
  10. lope
    run easily
    He bent and made a stirrup of his laced fingers and she put her boot into his hands and he lifted her and she swung up onto the stallion’s back and looked down at him and then booted the horse forward and went loping out up the track along the edge of the lake and was lost to view.
  11. antiquity
    extreme oldness
    The Duen A Alfonsa was both grandaunt and godmother to the girl and her life at the hacienda invested it with oldworld ties and with antiquity and tradition.
  12. patina
    a fine coating of oxide on the surface of a metal
    The most antique of the several oil portraits in the parlor with its dark patina crazed like an old porcelain glazing was of her great-grandfather and dated from Toledo in seventeen ninety-seven.
  13. burst
    break open or apart suddenly and forcefully
    The right barrel burst.
    "Burst" is an irregular verb. The past and present tenses are the same form (there is no "bursted"). Similarly, the present perfect is "have burst."
  14. diminished
    made to seem smaller or less, especially in worth
    The polished wood of the table held a round shape of breath where they’d stood that diminished from the edges in and vanished.
  15. entity
    that which is perceived to have its own distinct existence
    The names of the entities that have power to constrain us change with time.
  16. outmoded
    out of fashion
    What Alejandra dismisses as a matter of mere appearance or outmoded custom.
  17. garbled
    lacking orderly continuity
    The wire that had burned out of the fenceposts lay in garbled shapes about the ground and coils of it stood in the fire and coils of it pulsed red hot deep in the coals.
  18. sleek
    having a smooth, gleaming surface reflecting light
    The horses had come in out of the darkness and stood at the edge of the firelight in the falling rain dark and sleek with their red eyes burning in the night.
  19. austere
    of a stern or strict bearing or demeanor
    She looked up at him and her face was pale and austere in the uplight and her eyes lost in their darkly shadowed hollows save only for the glint of them and he could see her throat move in the light and he saw in her face and in her figure something he’d not seen before and the name of that thing was sorrow.
  20. salon
    elegant sitting room where guests are received
    The hacendado folded shut the books and pushed back his chair and rose and he followed him out down the hall and through the salon and through the library to the paneled double doors at the far end of the room.
  21. ornate
    marked by complexity and richness of detail
    He pulled a tasseled chain and lit an ornate tin chandelier suspended from the ceiling.
  22. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    He broke the balls and they played straight pool and the hacendado beat him easily, walking about the table and chalking his cue with a deft rotary motion and announcing the shots in Spanish.
  23. corrugated
    shaped into alternating parallel grooves and ridges
    They rode out through the north end of the town and they halted before an adobe building with a corrugated tin roof and an empty mud bellcot above it.
  24. baroque
    relating to an elaborately ornamented style of art and music
    An old seed-company calendar from Monterrey was nailed to the wall above them and in the corner stood an empty wire birdcage hung from a floorpedestal like some baroque lampstand.
  25. skew
    having an oblique or slanting direction or position
    John Grady looked at the little square of light in the door and at the skew of it on the wall above the old man’s head where he sat.
  26. perfunctory
    hasty and without attention to detail; not thorough
    They had about them a perfunctory air, like men accustomed to caring for livestock.
  27. sustenance
    the act of providing a means of subsistence or survival
    He said there was no sustenance in it for them.
  28. mend
    heal or recover
    They drove down the street past the last house and the last of the corrals and mud pens and crossed a shallow ford where the slow water shone like oil in its colors and mended itself behind them before the run-off from the trucktires had even finished draining back.
  29. fallow
    undeveloped but potentially useful
    An hour later they left the road altogether, the truck laboring over a dirt track across rolling fields, a great and fallow baldfos such as was common to that country where feral cattle the color of candle-wax come up out of the arroyos to feed at night like alien principals.
  30. feral
    wild and menacing
    An hour later they left the road altogether, the truck laboring over a dirt track across rolling fields, a great and fallow baldfos such as was common to that country where feral cattle the color of candle-wax come up out of the arroyos to feed at night like alien principals.
  31. mendicant
    a pauper who lives by begging
    The guard uncuffed their wrists and left them and they squatted and leaned against the wall with their blankets about their shoulders like mendicants.
  32. malignant
    dangerous to health
    A sense of some brooding and malignant life slumbering in the darkened cages they passed.
  33. tier
    one of two or more layers one atop another
    Here and there along the tiers of catwalks on the far side of the quadrangle a dull light shaped out the grating of the cells.
  34. vile
    causing or able to cause nausea
    They slept in iron bunks chained to the walls on thin trocheros or mattress pads that were greasy, vile, infested.
  35. seethe
    be noisy with activity
    The prison was no more than a small walled village and within it occurred a constant seethe of barter and exchange in everything from radios and blankets down to matches and buttons and shoenails and within this bartering ran a constant struggle for status and position.
  36. egalitarian
    favoring social equality
    Underpinning all of it like the fiscal standard in commercial societies lay a bedrock of depravity and violence where in an egalitarian absolute every man was judged by a single standard and that was his readiness to kill.
  37. lithe
    moving and bending with ease
    He was a man about forty with graying hair and moustache, lithe and trim.
  38. sever
    cut off from a whole
    The lowest cut was the deepest and it had severed the outer fascia but it had not gone through into the stomach wall.
  39. faction
    a clique that seeks power usually through intrigue
    An older man from the state of Yucatin who was outside of the factions but was treated with respect.
  40. saunter
    a careless leisurely gait
    He moved across the courtyard at a studied saunter.
  41. guile
    shrewdness as demonstrated by being skilled in deception
    If there was guile there it was of no sort he could reckon with and he sat in the dirt and pulled off his left boot and reached down into it and took out the small damp sheaf of bills.
  42. hone
    sharpen with a whetstone
    He was standing on one foot with his leg crossed over his knee honing the blade against the sole of his boot when he heard someone coming and he folded the knife and slid it into his pocket and turned and went out, passing two men who smirked at him on their way to the vile latrine.
  43. adjure
    command solemnly
    He looked to be adjuring him to read something writ there but there was nothing to see save the dents and dings occasioned by the ten thousand meals eaten off it.
  44. loll
    hang loosely or laxly
    John Grady dropped the knifehandle and pushed at the oiled head lolling against his chest.
  45. surge
    a sudden forceful flow
    He half wondered if he were not dead and in his despair he felt well up in him a surge of sorrow like a child beginning to cry but it brought with it such pain that he stopped it cold and began at once his new life and the living of it breath to breath.
  46. tepid
    moderately warm
    It was tepid, only faintly effervescent, delicious.
  47. effervescent
    giving off bubbles
    It was tepid, only faintly effervescent, delicious.
  48. antiseptic
    a substance that destroys harmful micro-organisms
    He cleaned the sutured wounds with an antiseptic and taped gauze pads over them and helped him to sit up.
  49. deference
    a courteous expression of esteem or regard
    The man stood at his bed and took off his hat as though in deference to some wounded hero.
  50. peculiar
    beyond or deviating from the usual or expected
    When they carried him out of there I thought how peculiar it would of seemed to him if he could of seen it.
    Note the peculiar grammar here that is peculiar ("unique or specific to a person") to the characters and does not reflect the author. The phrases "would of" and "could of" should be "would have" or "would've" and "could have" or "could've" in standard English.

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