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Shortened from tawdry lace; originally a corruption and rebracketing of Saint Audrey lace (from Old English Æðelþryð). The lace necklaces sold to pilgrims to Saint Audrey fell out of fashion in the 17th century, and so tawdry was reinterpreted as meaning “cheap” or “vulgar”.


  • IPA(key): /ˈtɔːdɹi/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɔːdɹi


tawdry (countable and uncountable, plural tawdries)

  1. (obsolete) Tawdry lace. [17th c.]
  2. (obsolete) Anything gaudy and cheap; pretentious finery. [17th–19th c.]


tawdry (comparative tawdrier, superlative tawdriest)

  1. (of clothing, appearance, etc.) Cheap and gaudy; showy.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:gaudy
    • 1823, Sir Walter Scott, chapter 33, in Quentin Durward:
      The rest of his dress—a dress always sufficiently tawdry—was overcharged with lace, embroidery, and ornament of every kind, and the plume of feathers which he wore was so high, as if intended to sweep the roof of the hall.
    • 1890, Knut Hamsen, translated by Sverre Lyngstad, Sult (Hunger), Paperback, 2016 edition, Canongate Books, Ltd., Part One, page 34:
      This wasn't really a room for me; the green curtains before the windows were rather tawdry, and there was anything but an abundance of nails on the walls for hanging one's wardrobe.
    • 1917, Alice Hegan Rice, chapter 20, in Calvary Alley:
      It was all cheap and incredibly tawdry, from the festoons of paper roses on the walls to the flash of paste jewels in make-believe crowns.
    • 1993, Mike Leigh, Naked, spoken by Johnny (David Thewlis):
      So now you just want cheap thrills and plenty of 'em and it don't[sic] matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new, as long as it's new, as long as it flashes and fucking bleeps in 40 fucking different colours.
  2. (of character, behavior, situations, etc.) Unseemly, base, shameful.
    Synonym: sordid
    • 1918, Stewart Edward White, chapter 1, in The Forty-Niners:
      [T]he "greaser" was a dirty, idle, shiftless, treacherous, tawdry vagabond, dwelling in a disgracefully primitive house, and backward in every aspect of civilization.
    • 1920, E. Phillips Oppenheim, chapter 16, in The Great Impersonation:
      The woman's passion by his side seemed suddenly tawdry and unreal, the seeking of her lips for his something horrible.
    • 2008 August 9, Clemente Lisi, “Lusty Lies of Don Juan John”, in New York Post[1], retrieved 16 December 2013:
      After months of flat-out lying to the public, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards finally copped to having a sleazy extramarital fling [] The tawdry affair has dogged Edwards over the past few months.

Derived terms[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • tawdry”, in OneLook Dictionary Search.