1 of 2


taw·​dry ˈtȯ-drē How to pronounce tawdry (audio)
tawdrier; tawdriest
: 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
: 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
tawdrily adverb
tawdriness noun


2 of 2


: cheap showy finery

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.

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

Examples of tawdry in a Sentence

Adjective The scandal was a tawdry affair.
Recent Examples on the Web
American Nightmare is a strong offering from what has quickly become a tired and often tawdry documentary genre. Chris Vognar, Rolling Stone, 20 Jan. 2024 Now the tawdry allegations threaten to upend the case, and scrutiny of Wade's role in the case is only mounting. Daniel Klaidman, CBS News, 19 Jan. 2024 For her, of seemingly limitless patience, no human drama was too insignificant, too tawdry, too wretched or alien. Aatish Taseer, New York Times, 9 Nov. 2023 But Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa (All the Money in the World) display a tawdry sense of Western history that is unfortunately in sync with the times. Armond White, National Review, 24 Nov. 2023 In the sin city of the 1990s, casinos had become marked by tawdry décor and all-you-can-eat buffets. Tony Perrottet, Travel + Leisure, 23 Nov. 2023 The family, rather than any one individual, is the best prism through which to look at the whole tawdry enterprise. Rich Lowry, National Review, 1 Oct. 2023 Benson, whose Pretty Little Liars bona fides are a tip-off to the show’s tawdry intentions, never seems wholly comfortable when Cara is just being presented as a walking social-media thirst trap. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 Sep. 2023 In the nineteen-eighties, an addiction to cocaine and an association with a tawdry murder case helped bring his career, and the parties, to an end. Clare Malone, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2023
The details laid out in the 39-page indictment were nothing short of tawdry. Nicholas Fandos, New York Times, 23 Sep. 2023 And after the death of his brother, Beau, in 2015, Hunter descended into a spiral of addiction and tawdry and self-destructive behavior. Katie Benner, New York Times, 11 Jan. 2023 Those who laugh are immediately outsiders to Trump world, where a taste for the tawdry is established as a fundamental shibboleth of loyalty and belonging. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 15 Dec. 2022 Make way, The Bold and the Beautiful, for the tawdry and[MT1] the treasonous. Michael Tomasky, The New Republic, 26 Sep. 2022 However, a recent Republican president, leading Republican senators and disingenuous testimony by three recent Republican nominees have shamefully dragged the court down to the level of tawdry, hardball, partisan politics. Anchorage Daily News, 15 May 2022 This is not, in the end, a tale of hubris brought low, or even of a tacky life staring down a long lens at a tawdry, dwindling death. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 11 Feb. 2022 It has been reclaimed by some as a marker of empowerment and by others as a critical satire of male bravado and tawdry, art-world branding. Washington Post, 26 Aug. 2021 Even when the proceedings become a touch tawdry, there’s a blessed absence of American puritanism in their presentation. Sam Sacks, WSJ, 25 June 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tawdry.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



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

First Known Use


1655, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1680, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tawdry was in 1655

Dictionary Entries Near tawdry

Cite this Entry

“Tawdry.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tawdry. Accessed 29 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


tawdrier; tawdriest
: cheap and showy

More from Merriam-Webster on tawdry

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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