adjective taw·dry \ ˈtȯ-drē , ˈtä- \
|Updated on: 14 Aug 2018

Definition of tawdry

tawdrier; tawdriest
: cheap and gaudy in appearance or quality; also : ignoble
  • a tawdry attempt to smear his opponent


play \ˈtȯ-drə-lē, ˈtä-\ adverb


play \ˈtȯ-drē-nəs, ˈtä-\ noun

tawdry was our Word of the Day on 12/12/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of tawdry in a Sentence

  1. The scandal was a tawdry affair.

Recent Examples of tawdry from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of tawdry

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

Synonym Discussion of 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




Definition of tawdry

: cheap showy finery

First Known Use of tawdry

circa 1680

in the meaning defined above

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TAWDRY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of tawdry for English Language Learners

  • : having a cheap and ugly appearance

  • : morally low or bad

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