Thursday, 8 December 2022

Tawdry: St Audrey’s lace

To describe something as tawdry means it is worthless, vulgar, cheap or gaudy and it is a corruption of the term St Audrey’s lace. St Audrey was named Etheldrida when she was born in the seventh century. She was the daughter of the king of East Anglia and married the king of Northumbria so had a wealthy life, however, she renounced both her royal life and her husband and became a nun and ultimately a saint. She died in the year 679 with a throat tumour, which she considered God’s punishment for her love of necklaces when she was young. Her name was simplified to Audrey and she became the patron saint of Ely where an annual fair was held in her memory on the 17 October. Trinkets including cheap jewellery and a style of necklace known as St Audrey’s lace, which seems to have been a silk ribbon or string rather than a specific type of lace, were sold to the pilgrims. The term St Audrey’s lace became corrupted to tawdry lace and by the seventeenth century tawdry was used to describe anything cheap and vulgar.

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