"no longer fresh or elegant but worn as if it were so; in cheap and ostentatious imitation of what is rich or costly," 1670s, adjective use of noun tawdry "silk necktie for women" (1610s), shortened from tawdry lace (1540s), an alteration (with adhesion of the -t- from Saint) of St. Audrey's lace, a necktie or ribbon sold at the annual fair at Ely on Oct. 17 commemorating St. Audrey (queen of Northumbria, died 679). Her association with lace necklaces is that she supposedly died of a throat tumor, which, according to Bede, she considered God's punishment for her youthful stylishness:
"I know of a surety that I deservedly bear the weight of my trouble on my neck, for I remember that, when I was a young maiden, I bore on it the needless weight of necklaces; and therefore I believe the Divine goodness would have me endure the pain in my neck, that so I may be absolved from the guilt of my needless levity, having now, instead of gold and pearls, the fiery heat of a tumour rising on my neck." [A.M. Sellar translation, 1907]
"tawdry, gaudy, showy but in bad taste," 1966, from Yiddish glitz "glitter," from German glitzern "sparkle" (see glitter (v.)).
"deck, dress up" (especially with tawdry or vulgar finery), 1660s, from be- + dizen "to dress" (1610s), especially, from late 18c., "to dress finely, adorn," originally "to dress (a distaff) for spinning" (1520s), and evidently the verbal form of the first element in distaff.
It is remarkable that neither the vb., nor the sb. as a separate word, has been found in OE. or ME., and that on the other hand no vb. corresponding to dizen is known in L.G. or Du. [OED]
1823, pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling British poet George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) or his poetry.
Perfect she was, but as perfection is
Insipid in this naughty world of ours,
Where our first parents never learn'd to kiss
Till they were exiled from their earlier bowers,
Where all was peace, and innocence, and bliss
(I wonder how they got through the twelve hours),
Don Jose like a lineal son of Eve,
Went plucking various fruit without her leave.
[from "Don Juan"]
It was on the Continent that Byron was influential, and it is not in England that his spiritual progeny is to be sought. To most of us, his verse seems often poor and his sentiment often tawdry, but abroad his way of feeling and his outlook on life were transmitted and developed and transmuted until they became so wide-spread as to be factors in great events. [Bertrand Russell, "A History of Western Philosophy," 1945]
"in poor taste," 1888, from earlier sense of "shabby, seedy" (1862), adjectival use of tackey (n.) "ill-fed or neglected horse" (1800), later extended to persons in like condition, "hillbilly, cracker" (1888), of uncertain origin. Related: Tackiness.
The word "tacky" is a Southern colloquialism. It was coined by a wealthier or more refined and educated class for general application to those who were not sheltered by the branches of a family tree, who were "tainted." Those who were wealthy and yet had no great-grandfathers were "tackies." The word was used both in contempt and in derision. It is now nearly obsolete in both senses. There are no aristocrats in the South now, and therefore no "tackies." No man who has the instincts of a gentleman is spoken of as a "tacky," whether he can remember the name of his grandfather's uncle or not. But it has its uses. It is employed in describing persons of low ideas and vulgar manners, whether rich or poor. It may mean an absence of style. In dress, anything that is tawdry is "tacky." A ribbon on the shopkeeper's counter, a curtain in the bolt, a shawl or bonnet, a bolt of cloth fresh from the loom may be "tacky," because it is cheap and yet pretentious. In Louisiana the inferior grade of Creole ponies are known as "tackies." [Horace Ingraham, Charleston, S.C., in American Notes and Queries, Feb. 15, 1890]