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In a word: tawdry

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


You probably know that tawdry (pronounced TAW-dree) means "showy," "gaudy," "without real value," "cheaply adorned." And you probably extend the sense from too much costume jewelry and makeup to a moral level of cheapness and shallowness. 

But you may not know that the word comes from a saint's name. St. Etheldreda, abbess of Ely, who died in A.D. 679, is also known as St. Audrey. She is the patron saint of Ely, which in the Middle Ages held an annual festival on her feast day, St. Audry's fair. The saint suffered from a tumor of some sort in her neck, which she concealed with neckerchiefs, and locally produced neckerchiefs were among the goods sold at St. Audry's fair. 

As the merchandise, especially the neckerchiefs, came to be seen as old-fashioned and shoddy, St. Audry's name was contracted into tawdry, an adjective to describe the goods. 

Example: From a 2008 Newsweek article: "George H.W. Bush won the White House not because of the tawdry Willie Horton ad but because he convinced the country he was the only candidate ready to be president in an unknown post-cold-war world." 

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