• tawdry •
Pronunciation: taw-dree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Cheap, showy and pretentious as tawdry clothes. 2. Shameful, indecent, as tawdry behavior.
Notes: Today's word has a small family consisting of an adverb tawdrily and a noun, tawdriness. Tawdry itself may also be used as a noun, as Richardson used it when he wrote in his novel, Clarissa (1747), "Only for the sake of having a little more tawdry upon his housings".
In Play: In general, we think of dressing tawdrily, but a person may behave in a tawdry manner, too, "She was perfectly dressed for her tawdry flirtations with all the men at the party." In fact, tawdriness can appear anywhere: "The Bickertons draped their entire premises with tawdry blinking decorations to celebrate the birth of their Lord."
Word History: The meaning of today's word reflects undeserved shame on its eponym. Etheldreda, the queen of Northumberland in the 7th century, rejected the pomp and circumstance of her station and moved to the Isle of Ely near Cambridge, where she established a convent. As she lay dying of a throat tumor in 679, she declared her malady divine punishment for the vanity of her youth, when she was overly fond of neckwear. She was canonized as St. Audrey and the city of Ely established an annual fair in her honor. In time, this fair became known for its cheap, frilly scarves, called St. Audrey lace. This expression eventually contracted to t'Audry (lace), which came to be used as an adjective, ultimately to be respelled as today's word . (Today's Good Word came as no tawdry recommendation at all, so we thank John Olivier for it.)