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

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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 It’s the tawdry scene just beyond the gates on Washington Road, complete with John Daly hawking merchandise from his camper in the Hooters parking lot. Tim Bielik, cleveland, "Masters free live streams (11/12/2020): How to watch first round, TV options, tee times | Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau," 12 Nov. 2020 But all is not lost for those hoping political books can transcend tawdry tell-alls by former White House occupants. Michael J. Coren, Quartz, "Trump leaving office could change America’s reading habits," 10 Nov. 2020 As directed by Matthew MacDermid, plot recapitulation, tawdry secrets and shocking revelations all were delivered at the same pace and with the same emotional heft. Matthew J. Palm, orlandosentinel.com, "Ensemble Company’s ‘Liaisons Dangereuses’ needs more danger | Review," 7 Nov. 2020 Biden’s previous stint in the executive branch includes a fairly tawdry example of how badly things can go wrong when the revolving door spins the wrong way. Jeff Hauser, The New Republic, "Beltway Lobbyists Are Clutching Their Pearls Over Biden’s Ethics Reforms," 28 Oct. 2020 The decision by Senate Democrats to boycott Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearing in which Republicans voted to advance Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court was tawdry and unjustified. Arkansas Online, "OPINION | HENRY OLSEN: Confirmation politics," 24 Oct. 2020 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 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.

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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

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The first known use of tawdry was in 1655

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Last Updated

23 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tawdry.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tawdry. Accessed 5 Dec. 2020.

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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

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