taw·​dry | \ˈtȯ-drē, ˈtä-\
tawdrier; tawdriest

Definition of tawdry 

(Entry 1 of 2)

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



Definition of tawdry (Entry 2 of 2)

: cheap showy finery

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Other Words from tawdry


tawdrily \ˈtȯ-​drə-​lē, ˈtä-​ \ adverb
tawdriness \ˈtȯ-​drē-​nəs, 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


The scandal was a tawdry affair.

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Even eggs worth three or four thousand dollars looked tawdry and cheap. Olivia Martin, Town & Country, "The Story of the Incredible Paris Apartment in The Romanoffs Episode 1," 12 Oct. 2018 On its own, the tale is sick and tawdry and sadly familiar: A priest who molests boys becomes a bishop who takes advantage of seminarians and who then goes on to be awarded a cardinal’s hat by a hierarchy looking the other way. William Mcgurn, WSJ, "When the Cardinal Sins," 30 July 2018 My dotty building was home not only to the tawdry and the drunken, but also the homicidal. Michael Milton, New York Times, "Hotel Belleclaire: A Dowager on the Rise," 12 Jan. 2018 No matter what revelations come to mind, some of these comments were so tawdry and almost childish. Fox News, "Former agent fires back at calls to abolish ICE," 30 June 2018 But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns. Nick Corasaniti, New York Times, "Justice Department Dismisses Corruption Case Against Menendez," 31 Jan. 2018 In a Thoreauvian vein, Mr. Dann’s first chapter laments the tawdry excesses of American prosperity. Kelly Scott Franklin, WSJ, "‘The Road to Walden’ Review: Peripatetic Ponderings," 12 July 2018 Even though plenty of people now meet long-term partners or spouses on Tinder—just peruse the New York Times wedding pages for proof—the brand’s tawdry image has stuck. Leigh Gallagher, Fortune, "Match Is the Sweetheart of Online Dating—But Can It Fend Off Facebook and Bumble?," 27 June 2018 With his high-low pedigree, Cooper proved well-suited to this story, a tawdry tabloid tale that also happens to have potentially enormous political ramifications. Meredith Blake, latimes.com, "How Stormy Daniels' candor and humor in her '60 Minutes' interview showed 'a woman to be reckoned with'," 26 Mar. 2018

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 above


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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Dictionary Entries near tawdry





tawdry lace



Statistics for tawdry

Last Updated

4 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for tawdry

The first known use of tawdry was in 1655

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More Definitions for tawdry



English Language Learners Definition of tawdry

: having a cheap and ugly appearance

: morally low or bad

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More from Merriam-Webster on tawdry

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tawdry

Spanish Central: Translation of tawdry

Nglish: Translation of tawdry for Spanish Speakers

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living or existing for a long time

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