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Shortened from tawdry lace; originally a corruption of Saint Audrey lace (from Old English Æþelþryþ). 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.



tawdry (comparative tawdrier, superlative tawdriest)

  1. (of clothing, appearance, etc.) Cheap and gaudy; showy.
    • 1823, Sir Walter Scott, Quentin Durward, ch. 33:
      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.
    • 1917, Alice Hegan Rice, Calvary Alley, ch. 20:
      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.
  2. (of character, behavior, situations, etc.) Unseemly, base, shameful.
    • 1918, Stewart Edward White, The Forty-Niners, ch. 1:
      [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, The Great Impersonation, ch. 16:
      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," New York Post (retrieved 16 Dec 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.



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