Some words evolve in an odd way. Consider tawdry, which evolved from the name of St. Audrey, a person once revered in Great Britain.
The story began in the seventh century with a princess named Etheldrida (spelled several different ways) who valued chastity so much, as a personal religious vow, that she decided she should not surrender her virginity even if married. She became the wife of the Prince of Gyrwinas, who graciously and considerately died in three years without having sullied her marital bed. She then became the queen of Egfrid, the king of Northumbria, with whom she did not engage in connubial bliss either, despite his impassioned pleadings. Audrey, as she came to be called, entered a convent with her husband’s consent. However, he had second thoughts and realized that he was entitled to wifely sexual companionship. Learning of his change of mind, Audrey disguised herself as an old woman and, together with two older nuns, fled to the Isle of Ely, which her first husband had left her, and ruled over it until her death in 679.
Audrey engaged in frequent prayers but infrequent baths. She bathed only four times a year, each bath preceding one of the four great feasts. A few years after arriving on Ely, she developed a tumor in her throat, which she took to be divine punishment for the youthful follies of decorating her neck with worldly ornaments. Audrey did not die of cancer, however; she became a victim of the plague.
Etheldrida, under her anglicized name Audrey, was sainted. In her
memory a fair called St. Audrey’s Day was held annually on October 17 until it petered out in the seventeenth century. At these festivities cheap, gaudy trinkets were sold as mementoes, and the item called «St. Audrey’s lace», a showy scarf, was in great demand. These neckpieces were of poor quality to start with. They became shabbier and cheaper as time went on until finally the word to describe them, and ultimately any showy and worthless piece of finery, was tawdry, a shortened corrupted form of St. Audrey.