taw·​dry | \ ˈtȯ-drē How to pronounce tawdry (audio) , ˈtä- \
tawdrier; tawdriest

Definition of tawdry

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : cheap and gaudy in appearance or quality tawdry clothing/jewels tawdry furniture "Well, I found myself seated in a horrid little private box … I looked out from behind the curtain and surveyed the house. It was a tawdry affair, all Cupids and cornucopias, like a third-rate wedding-cake."— Oscar Wilde Any trip there carries with it more than its share of drabness, tawdry hotels and second-rate service, all of which tax the forbearance of the most patient traveler.— John F. Burns
2 : morally sordid, base, or distasteful a tawdry scandal a tawdry love affair a tawdry attempt to smear his opponent Setting aside the tawdry manner in which his marriage had (publicly) unraveled, the mayor's combative style had begun to grate on many New Yorkers.— Jonathan Mahler



Definition of tawdry (Entry 2 of 2)

: cheap showy finery

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from tawdry


tawdrily \ ˈtȯ-​drə-​lē How to pronounce tawdrily (audio) , ˈtä-​ \ adverb
tawdriness \ ˈtȯ-​drē-​nəs How to pronounce tawdriness (audio) , ˈtä-​ \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for tawdry


gaudy, tawdry, garish, flashy, meretricious mean vulgarly or cheaply showy. gaudy implies a tasteless use of overly bright, often clashing colors or excessive ornamentation. circus performers in gaudy costumes tawdry applies to what is at once gaudy and cheap and sleazy. tawdry saloons garish describes what is distressingly or offensively bright. garish neon signs flashy implies an effect of brilliance quickly and easily seen to be shallow or vulgar. a flashy nightclub act meretricious stresses falsity and may describe a tawdry show that beckons with a false allure or promise. a meretricious wasteland of casinos and bars

Did You Know?


In the 7th century, Etheldreda, the queen of Northumbria, renounced her husband and her royal position for the veil of a nun. She was renowned for her saintliness and is traditionally said to have died of a swelling in her throat, which she took as a judgment upon her fondness for wearing necklaces in her youth. Her shrine became a principal site of pilgrimage in England. An annual fair was held in her honor on October 17th, and her name became simplified to St. Audrey. At these fairs various kinds of cheap knickknacks were sold, along with a type of necklace called St. Audrey's lace, which by the 17th century had become altered to tawdry lace. Eventually, tawdry came to be used to describe anything cheap and gaudy that might be found at these fairs or anywhere else.

Examples of tawdry in a Sentence

Adjective The scandal was a tawdry affair.
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective As for Carroll’s tawdry Trump tale, there is slightly more to it, on both sides. Andrew C. Mccarthy, National Review, "Why Government Lawyers Are Defending Trump," 12 Sep. 2020 But his career came to an apparent end on Tuesday in a way that has become numbingly routine in the entertainment business: He was ensnared in a tawdry scandal. Nicole Sperling, New York Times, "Hollywood Executive Ron Meyer Leaves NBCUniversal After Secret Settlement," 18 Aug. 2020 The tawdry details of the scandal involving Mr. Granda ensured that the news spread quickly on the campus of 15,000 residential students. Ruth Graham, New York Times, "Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Departure Brings Relief on Liberty University’s Campus," 25 Aug. 2020 The details of how the Australian state of Victoria got caught in a second wave, wrecking its hopes for a quick recovery while enlisting the citizenry as an army of snitches, tell a tawdry tale of political incompetence. James Morrow, WSJ, "Lockdown Becomes an Australian Nightmare," 17 Aug. 2020 But the tawdry tale suggests that there was plenty of blame to go around, including the Sheriffs Dept. Brian Lowry, CNN, "'The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez' examines how the system failed a murdered boy," 26 Feb. 2020 But like a toddler desperate to get back to diapers and bottles, there is a seemingly constant temptation to regress to the easier days of irresponsibility and tawdry drama. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, "Way too 'Extreme': Trashy reality shows' comeback makes TV revolting again," 26 Feb. 2020 Once again, a tawdry deal has been done over the heads of the Palestinians, in their absence, and ignoring their rights – indeed their very existence as a people. Rashid Khalidi, Time, "President Trump's Peace Plan Is the Latest in a Century of Outrageous Deals for the Palestinians," 31 Jan. 2020 The cringe-inducing spectacle that follows reduces Yoav to a tawdry symbol and tramples his conflicted, complicated humanity. Justin Chang, chicagotribune.com, "‘Synonyms’ at Gene Siskel Film Center: When in France, do as the Israeli commandos-turned-nude Parisian models do," 5 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun What happened at the White House last night was its tawdry, perhaps inevitable, sequel. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, "The Malign Fantasy of Donald Trump’s Convention," 28 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tawdry.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of tawdry


1655, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1680, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tawdry


tawdry lace a tie of lace for the neck, from St. Audrey (St. Etheldreda) †679 queen of Northumbria

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tawdry

Time Traveler for tawdry

Time Traveler

The first known use of tawdry was in 1655

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about tawdry

Statistics for tawdry

Last Updated

24 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tawdry.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tawdry. Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tawdry


How to pronounce tawdry (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tawdry

: having a cheap and ugly appearance
: morally low or bad

More from Merriam-Webster on tawdry

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tawdry

Nglish: Translation of tawdry for Spanish Speakers

Comments on tawdry

What made you want to look up tawdry? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!