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 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 The story of a sad and lonesome woman who lost the will to live collapsed under the weight of much more tawdry tales of unrequited love, an abusive boyfriend and allegations of murder. Scott Craven, azcentral, "Phoenix's most notable ghost: The true story of the Hotel San Carlos' 'woman in white'," 28 Oct. 2019 Despite the seriousness of the proceedings, the debate took turns for the tawdry and personal. Nicholas Fandos, New York Times, "House Panel Delays Vote on Impeachment Articles," 12 Dec. 2019 Some of the stylistic fillips feel excessive, and at the end of the day, this is just a tawdry, gory B-picture, with little to say about human behavior. Los Angeles Times, "Review: A funny, intense ‘Harpoon,’ Aaron Paul, a terrifying ‘Clown’ and more," 3 Oct. 2019 But in the summer of 1998, elected Democrats all across the country pressured Clinton to cooperate with Starr, lest the tawdry scandal hurt the party at the polls that November. Eric Zorn, chicagotribune.com, "Column: Bill Clinton testified under oath during his scandal, so come on, President Trump, raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth!," 19 Nov. 2019 This tawdry alliance between AMI and Weinstein and their alleged collusion to pressure NBC is just one of the bombshell revelations dropped by New Yorker correspondent Farrow in Catch and Kill. Marisa Guthrie, The Hollywood Reporter, "Ronan Farrow Strikes Again: A New Book Targets NBC News and How Harvey Weinstein May Have Leveraged Matt Lauer," 9 Oct. 2019 The 1998 impeachment of President Clinton was as consuming and tawdry as second-rate burlesque. Jeffrey Fleishman, chicagotribune.com, "Watergate was a TV spectacle. Just wait for the reboot: Trump," 4 Oct. 2019 Pressure to raise money for research, the allure of unrestricted donations for novel ideas and the aura of star scholars may have contributed to decisions that in retrospect look tawdry. Washington Post, "Jeffrey Epstein, the academy and questions about male dominance in science," 17 Sep. 2019

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

27 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tawdry.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tawdry. Accessed 25 Feb. 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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on tawdry

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tawdry

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tawdry

Spanish Central: Translation of 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).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

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!