"Native Speaker," Vocabulary from pages 131-202 30 words

Chang Rae Lee's "Native Speaker" provides a Korean- American perspective on issues of assimilation to the American way of life and longing to hold on to your own culture.

Learn this word list that focuses on the faces of John Kwang. Here are links to our lists for the novel: pages 1-59, pages 60-130, pages 131-202, pages 203-276, pages 277-349
  1. expansive
    of behavior that is impressive and ambitious in scale or scope
    The adjective "expansive" is referring to the impressive physical scope of the war room that contrasts with Kwang's small office in the back. It could also refer to the mood ("friendly and open and willing to talk" and "marked by exaggerated feelings of euphoria") created by Janice and the other staffers who all believe in John Kwang and what he can do for the city.
    I finally met Kwang a week after the scouting. I was charting out with Janice his April and May schedules of meetings and speaking engagements in the expansive war room of his Flushing headquarters.
  2. emanate
    proceed or issue forth, as from a source
    Maybe it was the kind of light that emanated from him, or the way his figure bent the light to a crucial incidence, but from any distance at all he appeared to me as though he were ascending an invisible ramp that magically preceded him.
  3. eminence
    a protuberance on a bone especially for attachment of a muscle or ligament
    "Eminence" also means "high status importance owing to marked superiority"--this would describe John Kwang's status in NYC, while the example sentence and chosen definition are describing the physical shape of Kwang's jaw, which, despite his lack of height, actually makes him look more eminent.
    His warm-hued face was square, owing its shape to the eminence of his angular jaw, which carved out two perfect hollows on either side of his chin.
  4. pubescent
    (of animals especially human beings) having arrived at the onset of puberty (the age at which sex glands become functional) but not yet fully mature
    I think I will forever see him with that smooth face, almost aglow, almost pubescent, despite my memory of those final days of his shortened career, when his true age seemed to besiege him all over and at once.
  5. impeccable
    without fault or error
    His taste for colors and fabrics was impeccable.
  6. dilution
    weakening (reducing the concentration) by the addition of water or a thinner
    This proved what appeared to me to be his great talent: his seeming resistance to dilution.
  7. bequeath
    leave or give by will after one's death
    Here, "bequeath" does not directly connect to a written will and death, but it might hint at how this constant attitude of spiritual openness and generosity might seem resistant to dilution but is actually a drain on Kwang's life. The use of the word also emphasizes Kwang's wealth and paternal nature.
    This despite the fact that everyone he met, each one of us he encountered inside and outside his office and circle, even and perhaps especially strangers, the curious citizenry of the streets, Kwang made feel as though he were bequeathing a significant part of himself.
  8. subtle
    difficult to detect or grasp by the mind or analyze
    And I thought that no matter what skin you were, no matter what your opinion of him, when you met him in person you somehow felt that you understood the subtle pressure of his grip, that it said or meant that you were the faintest brother to him, perhaps distantly removed by circumstance or blood but a brother nonetheless.
  9. vernacular
    the everyday speech of the people (as distinguished from literary language)
    Before I knew of him, I had never even conceived of someone like him. A Korean man, of his age, as part of the vernacular. Not just a respectable grocer or dry cleaner or doctor, but a larger public figure who was willing to speak and act outside the tight sphere of his family.
  10. unwavering
    not showing abrupt variations
    In media photographs and video he appeared to me as an ambitious minority politician and what being one had always meant—the adjutant interest groups, the unwavering agenda, the stridency, the righteousness.
  11. visage
    the appearance conveyed by a person's face
    My job, which I executed faithfully, was never to spy out those moments of his self-regard, it was not to peer through the crack of the door and watch as he bore off each successive visage.
  12. rudimentary
    being or involving basic facts or principles
    Most everyone on the staff seemed to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the Ianguage and customs, how to say hello and goodbye and please wait a moment, how to bow down low enough and speak in a tone of respect with eyes cast at a deferential angle.
  13. cadre
    a small unit serving as part of or as the nucleus of a larger political movement
    He was a Democrat in name, in the party of Mayor DeRoos, but he drew little from that machinery, the strong-arm cadres of unionized workers and tradespeople, white ethnic old New York.
  14. retain
    secure and keep for possible future use or application
    "Retain" could have connections to the past, present, and future. In the past, retainers were people who served in a noble household (this feeling of nobility could explain why Kwang inspires so many volunteers). In the present, Kwang retains a large staff to register thousands of voters, who might elect him into mayoral duties, for which he'd continue to need many people's help and support.
    Before the last campaign he had voter-registered literally thousands. That’s all his staff still did, and it was why John Kwang retained so many volunteers and such a large staff for just a city councilman, why he paid extra for their salaries and their lunches and their late-night call cars.
  15. messianic
    of or relating to a messiah promising deliverance
    John Kwang seems like a messiah because his message focuses on deliverance from crushing poverty, social injustices, and hateful violence. Because of this, he draws crowds of people who want to be a part of his miraculous visions.
    The mood in the office was messianic.
  16. manic
    affected with or marked by frenzy or mania uncontrolled by reason
    I tried to sit at the far end of the table, so that if he were in one of his high, manic moods he wouldn’t pick me out in front of the group.
  17. unctuous
    unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech
    If we were talking about some thorny issue like welfare reform or affirmative action he would say like a reporter both unctuous and angling, “Mr. Park, if you would tell us the Korean-American position on this please.”
  18. accessible
    easily obtained
    But then I would be speaking only half of the truth, and the most accessible half at that, the part that had the least to do with him.
  19. prudent
    careful and sensible; marked by sound judgment
    He was prudent with his language.
  20. hubris
    overbearing pride or presumption
    But I can imagine my father saying his no, no, it was clearly Kwang’s Confucian training at work, his secular religion of pure hierarchy, his belief that everyone is at once a noble and a servant and then just a man. Its adherents know no hubris.
  21. obstruct
    hinder or prevent the progress or accomplishment of
    De Roos was on the offensive again, trying to spoil Kwang’s show with the same questions about his role in the boycotts, suggesting that he was obstructing the efforts of the police and community groups.
  22. penury
    a state of extreme poverty or destitution
    Remember, or now know, how Koreans were cast as the dogs of Asia, remember the way our children could not speak their own language in school, remember how they called each other by the Japanese names forced upon them, remember the public executions of patriots and the shadowy murders of collaborators, remember our feelings of disgrace and penury and shame, remember most of all the struggle to survive with one’s own identity still strong and alive.
  23. sundry
    consisting of a haphazard assortment of different kinds
    I’d sit in one corner of his office during the three hours on Wednesdays that he opened his door to speak with “walk-ins,” the sundry visitors and neighborhood groups. By noon they’d be lined up in skeins outside the building, all kinds of people, people holding bags and children, people in suits, in smocks.
  24. profligate
    unrestrained by convention or morality
    "Profligate" also means "recklessly wasteful"--this definition could refer to the amount of paper that the list needs for the weekly printouts that Kwang takes home to memorize. But the chosen definition refers to the list's contents, which are records of every voter or potential voter, with their ethnicity, political party, house of worship, birthdates of their children and relatives, and more--the scope of the data is unconventional and could be immorally used.
    The list always growing, profligate.
  25. affable
    diffusing warmth and friendliness
    Compare the definitions and example sentences of "affable" and "amiable"--while the two words are synonymous, they refer to two separate men who are being friendly for different reasons. Henry is amiable so that he can get his subjects to open up and spill secrets. Kwang was being affable because it is his political persona, because of his shared Korean heritage with Henry, and because he didn't want to taint Henry and the printout with any hostile suspicions.
    “Learning the business, I see,” John finally said, affably.
  26. dominion
    dominance or power through legal authority
    At the time I didn’t know what Kwang meant by that last notion, what kind of dominion or direct influence he had over people like Baeh.
  27. stature
    high level of respect gained by impressive development or achievement
    I only considered the fact of his position and stature in the community as what had persuaded the storekeeper to deal fairly with Henry.
  28. populace
    people in general considered as a whole
    The editorialists suggested John Kwang, among others, as someone who could bring a fresh face to confront the city’s ills, a politician who could better understand the needs of the rapidly changing populace.
  29. vanguard
    any creative group active in the innovation and application of new concepts and techniques in a given field (especially in the arts)
    He had an idea to remake the image of the local party machinery. He himself had mentioned John Kwang as a part of that vanguard, though his implication was then cast only in terms of succession.
  30. syntax
    a systematic orderly arrangement
    "Syntax" also means "the grammatical arrangement of words in sentences"--because Kwang is talking about political "terms" ("a word or expression used for some particular thing"), this definition can fit. But the chosen definition emphasizes the idea that the structure of political language leads to the structuring of society, which Kwang believes is so focused on the historic struggles between blacks and whites that it ignores the current needs of the changing population.
    Everyone can see the landscape is changing. Soon there will be more brown and yellow than black and white. And yet the politics, especially minority politics, remain cast in terms that barely acknowledge us. It’s an old syntax.