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

Other Words from tawdry


tawdrily \ ˈtȯ-​drə-​lē How to pronounce tawdry (audio) , ˈtä-​ \ adverb
tawdriness \ ˈtȯ-​drē-​nəs How to pronounce tawdry (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 Videos of Pound council meetings became tawdry municipal reality shows — people would tune in for the sheer cringeworthy spectacle. Gregory S. Schneider, Washington Post, 23 May 2022 There are plenty of elements for a robustly tawdry thriller here. Kyle Smith, National Review, 17 Mar. 2022 The pair are cooking up a tawdry heist, barely worthy of the name, and the plan gets complicated by the intervention of Teach (Sam Rockwell), another gimlet-eyed crook, closer in age and experience to Bobby than to Donny. Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, 16 May 2022 And his withholding of aid to Ukraine for a partisan political purpose — to pressure the Ukrainian government to uncover dirt related to the Bidens — was a tawdry abuse of power (and led to his first impeachment). Rich Lowry, National Review, 15 Mar. 2022 Lots of tawdry details about vague Trump connections to apparently unsavory Russian characters. Andrew C. Mccarthy, National Review, 15 Feb. 2022 Though it's based on the Wondery podcast that first broke the tawdry tiger tale in 2019, Joe vs. Carole simply doesn't contain enough fresh insight to justify its existence today — despite game performances by the stars. Kristen Baldwin, EW.com, 2 Mar. 2022 Marks’ husband, Seth, has become the object of scorn and derision because of his tawdry sense of humor. Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 20 Feb. 2022 The story starts in the tawdry glitter of traveling carnivals just before World War II. WSJ, 9 Feb. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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 While viewed as tawdry at times by some of its critics, the tabloid has served as a beacon of media freedom in the Chinese-speaking world, read by dissidents and a more liberal Chinese diaspora – repeatedly challenging Beijing’s authoritarianism. The Christian Science Monitor, 23 June 2021 Besides the tawdry detailing and construction, the essential difference between the palace and its historical models is conceptual. Mark Lamster, Dallas News, 5 Feb. 2021 What happened at the White House last night was its tawdry, perhaps inevitable, sequel. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, 28 Aug. 2020 See More

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.

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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tawdry lace

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Last Updated

9 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tawdry.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tawdry. Accessed 26 Jun. 2022.

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