Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Gaudy and cheap in nature or appearance. See Synonyms at gaudy1.
  • adj. Shameful or indecent: tawdry secrets.
  • n. Cheap and gaudy finery.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Cheap and gaudy; showy.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Bought at the festival of St. Audrey.
  • adj. Very fine and showy in colors, without taste or elegance; having an excess of showy ornaments without grace; cheap and gaudy
  • n. A necklace of a rural fashion, bought at St. Audrey's fair; hence, a necklace in general.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A piece of rustic or cheap finery; a necklace, as of strung beads; a ribbon.
  • Characterized by cheap finery; gaudy; showy and tasteless; having too much or misapplied ornament; cheap; worthless.
  • Synonyms Tawdry, Gaudy. That which is tawdry has lost whatever freshness or elegance it has had, but is worn as if it were fresh, tasteful, and elegant, or it may be a cheap and ostentatious imitation of what is rich or costly; that which is gaudy challenges the eye by brilliant color or combinations of colors, but is not in good taste.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. tastelessly showy
  • adj. cheap and shoddy

Etymologies

From tawdry lace, lace necktie, alteration of Saint Audrey's lace (sold at the annual Saint Audrey's fair, Ely, England), after Saint Audrey (Saint Etheldreda), queen of Northumbria, who died in 679 of a throat tumor, supposedly because she delighted in fancy necklaces as a young woman.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Shortened from tawdry lace. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Some are life-size effigies, and they are dressed in tawdry finery, with a mask or false-face topped by a three-cornered cocked hat.

    Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November | Edwardian Promenade

  • This odd bathos between the particular and the immense is clear to us in tawdry pop songs and moments of solitary sublimity

    The Pontiff Is In...

  • He blamed ABC News for broadcasting an interview that he called "tawdry and inappropriate," but he did not directly respond to the account from his former wife, to whom he was married for 18 years.

    NYT > Home Page

  • The word tawdry has appeared in 61 New York Times articles in the past year, including on March 12 in "On the Bow'ry," by Dan

    NYT > Home Page

  • Here is a senator who pled guilty to a misdemeanor in what can best be described as tawdry circumstances.

    CNN Transcript Sep 1, 2007

  • Settling herself down to a review of her past as a preliminary to the consideration of her future, and hunting in it to begin with for any justification of that distressing word tawdry, the next thing she knew was that she wasn't thinking about this at all, but had somehow switched on to Mr. Wilkins.

    The Enchanted April

  • This sort of thing may be called tawdry, but it is not what I call meretricious.

    The New Jerusalem

  • It's just cheap and tawdry, which is what FOX is about anyways. upright left Says:

    Think Progress

  • He also talked about his love of things "tawdry" and how time apart heats up their sex life.

    PHOTOS: Sting & Trudie Show Skin, Talk Sex Life

  • The novelist Thackeray, for instance, ridiculed Lawrence's flashy values in Vanity Fair (1847), and attacked his female portraits as "tawdry".

    Thomas Lawrence: The new romantic – review

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Comments

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  • According to the Oxford American Dictionaries, this word comes from the expression"tawdry lace" < St. Audrey's lace; St. Audrey (or Etheldrida) was the patron saint of Ely, England, where such lace was traditionally sold.

    December 16, 2007

  • tawdry original root word derived from "noble might": meaning has now shifted 180 degrees: rhymes with Audrey which maintains its original meaning

    January 14, 2007