The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities Glossary


To call or bring before a court to answer to an indictment.


Downright; thorough; unmitigated; notorious.


A chair of the 18th century, having arms with closed spaces between them and the seat

Blasted heath

A Shakespearean reference -- the land the witches appeared on was a "blasted heath." A heath, in British English, is any area of uncultivated ground. "Blasted" means damaged -- such as what might happen to a battlefield. The blasted heath in Bonfire of the Vanities surrounds the Edgar Allen Poe Towers where the Lamb family lives. It illustrates the dismal public housing in the Bronx.


A small group of secret plotters, as against a government or person in authority.

Comme il faut

French phrase meaning "as it is necessary".


Lacking confidence in one's own ability, worth, or fitness; timid; shy. Restrained or reserved in manner or conduct.

Entre nous

A French phrase meaning "between us", meant to convey confidentiality.


Foolish or inane, especially in an unconscious, complacent manner; silly.


A French upholstered armchair, especially one with open sides.


A diminutive human being.


To bring a formal accusation against, as a means of bringing to trial, usually with a grand jury.


Pathologically incoherent, repetitious speech.

Incessant or compulsive talkativeness; wearisome volubility.


A grayish blend of colors, especially of green, used in textiles, as for plaids.

Obiter dicta

Law: an incidental or supplementary opinion by a judge in deciding a case, upon a matter not essential to the decision, and therefore not binding as precedent.


Characterized by strength, fullness, richness, and clearness. Of a style of speaking: pompous or bombastic


A slice of veal, chicken, or beef that is pounded until very thin and cooked quickly.


A member of the proletariat. A person who performs routine tasks in a society.


A person who is skilled in relating stories and anecdotes interestingly


Sluggish in temperament; gloomy; taciturn.


A nonstandard or ungrammatical usage, as "unflammable" and "they was." A breach of good manners or etiquette.

Any error, impropriety, or inconsistency.


Consisting of or abounding in woods or trees; wooded.


A rapid heart rate, especially one above 100 beats per minute in an adult.

Tambour door

A flexible shutter used as a desk top or in place of a door, composed of a number of closely set wood strips attached to a piece of cloth, the whole sliding in grooves along the sides or at the top and bottom.


The doctrine that final causes exist. The study of the evidences of design or purpose in nature.


Sluggish inactivity or inertia. Lethargic indifference; apathy.

Tout le monde

A fashionable French phrase meaning "all the world", or "everybody."


A German term, originally meaning a person who practices gymnastics. Sherman uses it to describe Freddy Button, an excessive smoker, as a "nicotine Turnvereiner."


Acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. This is the ethnicity which held, or seemed to hold, much of the power in late 20th-century New York. The New York City region, according to Wolfe's novel, was much more concerned with the snobbery and imitation of this ethnic group than the rest of the country. Sherman McCoy is a WASP. It generally applies to old-money Ivy-League-educated families.