"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
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.
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.
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
The scandal was a tawdry affair.
Recent Examples on the Web
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 His relatively short political career is powered by his popularity (and notoriety) as a television act, a celebrity secured through outlandish showmanship, tawdry innuendo and the curious coiffure that’s settled on his head.—Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 16 Aug. 2023 Is this a flimsy three-hour documentary dedicated to saying that anybody watching a flimsy three-hour documentary about flimsy analysis of a tawdry case will be stuck reproducing that cycle when the next TikTok trial comes along?—Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 Aug. 2023 The ridiculous, tawdry dating/competition show will start streaming on Peacock on Tuesday.—Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 16 July 2023 That show is a wretched, tawdry mess that never should have made it onto HBO’s schedule.—Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 16 July 2023 There are no packs of cruise passengers, no tawdry tchotchke shops, and no overdeveloped swathes crammed with hotels and restaurants.—Alisha Prakash, Travel + Leisure, 2 July 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.
tawdry lace a tie of lace for the neck, from St. Audrey (St. Etheldreda) †679 queen of Northumbria