mer·​e·​tri·​cious ˌmer-ə-ˈtri-shəs How to pronounce meretricious (audio)
: of or relating to a prostitute : having the nature of prostitution
meretricious relationships
: tawdrily and falsely attractive
the paradise they found was a piece of meretricious trashCarolyn See
: superficially (see superficial sense 2) significant : pretentious
scholarly names to provide fig-leaves of respectability for meretricious but stylish booksThe Times Literary Supplement (London)
meretriciously adverb
meretriciousness noun

Did you know?

Meretricious can be traced back to the Latin verb merēre, meaning "to earn, gain, or deserve." It shares this origin with a small group of other English words, including "merit," meritorious," and "emeritus." But, while these words can suggest some degree of honor or esteem, "meretricious" is used to suggest pretense, insincerity, and cheap or tawdry ornamentation. The Latin merēre is at the root of the Latin noun meretrix, meaning "prostitute," and its related adjective "meretricius" ("of or relating to a prostitute"). The Latin meretricius entered into English as "meretricious" in the 17th century. Shortly after being adopted, "meretricious" also began to be used to indicate things which are superficially attractive but which have little or no value or integrity.

Choose the Right Synonym for meretricious

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

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Today’s sleek, simple anti-It Bags, on the other hand, telegraph a less meretricious sort of chic. Fiorella Valdesolo, WSJ, 7 Jan. 2023 The Batman certainly can’t be dismissed as yet another meretricious superhero caper. Kyle Smith, National Review, 28 Feb. 2022 That stagy feel comes from the chest voice and vibrato, slightly recalling Bryan Ferry’s meretricious wobble here. Sasha Frere-jones, The New Yorker, 24 Feb. 2022 Vonnegut combined silly sci-fi comedy with even sillier oversimplifications to such meretricious effect that his true peer was not another novelist but Dr. Seuss. Kyle Smith, National Review, 23 Nov. 2021 These artistic reckonings prove that meretricious contemporary filmmakers can barely justify their own practices. Armond White, National Review, 9 July 2021 Indeed, that’s what makes the otherwise meretricious story of Gatsby and Daisy so compelling. Washington Post, 29 Dec. 2020 Still, some folks discover the secret to thwarting the meretricious allure of the evanescently contemporary. Michael Dirda, Washington Post, 29 Jan. 2020 The real problem is a green unwillingness to forgo shiny, meretricious plaudits for fake gestures in place of patiently laying the groundwork for something that might actually have some value. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, 6 Nov. 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'meretricious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Latin meretricius, from meretric-, meretrix prostitute, from merēre to earn — more at merit entry 1

First Known Use

1626, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of meretricious was in 1626


Dictionary Entries Near meretricious

Cite this Entry

“Meretricious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


mer·​e·​tri·​cious ˌmer-ə-ˈtrish-əs How to pronounce meretricious (audio)
: falsely attractive
meretriciously adverb
meretriciousness noun

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