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 The story starts in the tawdry glitter of traveling carnivals just before World War II. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, 16 Dec. 2021 Executive-produced by James D. Parriott, who would go on to executive-produce shows like Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy, Forever Knight has that swirl of earnest and tawdry that’s hard to locate in today’s lowbrow, mid-budget entertainment. Naomi Skwarna, Vulture, 27 Oct. 2021 This fall, however, fishnets could transcend their tawdry reputation as cheap All Hallows’ Eve novelties. Katharine K. Zarrella, WSJ, 28 Oct. 2021 The site of a massacre ordered by British officers more than a century ago, the somber memorial has recently been given what several observers have called a tawdry makeover. Manavi Kapur, Quartz, 11 Sep. 2021 His prospects were resurrected by the unlikely phenomenon of Donald Trump, perhaps the only man in American politics both tawdry enough to make Joe Biden look statesmanlike and incompetent enough to lose an election to him. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, 29 Aug. 2021 Investigating why her mother sleeps clasping a golden locket, Leah begins to be visited by a cherubic-looking little girl wearing tawdry angel’s wings. John Hopewell, Variety, 19 Aug. 2021 In 1998, the Republicans went into full frenzy over Clinton’s lying about his tawdry behavior with a White House intern. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 16 Aug. 2021 Mock answers all of my questions with the same level of nonchalance, despite the slightly tawdry conceit of our chat. Emily Tannenbaum, Glamour, 15 July 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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

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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tawdry lace

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Last Updated

30 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tawdry.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tawdry. Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for tawdry



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


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