Meretricious vs meritorious

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Meretricious and meritorious are two words that are often confused. We will look at the difference in meaning between meretricious and meritorious, where these words come from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Meretricious describes something that is superficially attractive, garish, something attractive that has no actual value. Meretricious also means insincere. The word first appears in the 1620s, derived from the Latin word meretricius which means pertaining to prostitutes. Within ten years, meretricious took on the meaning of attractively garish. Meretricious is an adjective, related words are meretriciously and meretriciousness.

Meritorious means praiseworthy or deserving a reward or accolade. The word meritorious is derived from the Latin word meritorius  which means something for which money is paid or earned. Meritorious is an adjective, related words are meritoriously and meritoriousness. Remember, meretricious describes something that is garish or something that is insincere, meritorious describes something praiseworthy.


While sending a small amount of properly targeted aid to certain causes may be justified, the enormous sums currently wasted on meretricious projects would be far better allocated to hard-pressed areas such as defence, healthcare and education. (The Telegraph)

From the point of view of artistic control, Taryn Fiebig as Musetta sang with the greatest musical insight, bringing out the character’s complexity with meretricious outrageousness blossoming alongside a yearning for goodness. (The Brisbane Times)

On the other hand, the meritorious in the Government department, who know that the rules of promotion based on seniority are weighed against them, have little incentive to perform. (The Daily Pioneer)

Health Minister Cameron Dick yesterday flew to Ravenshoe to award 19 emergency personnel with the Meritorious Service Award, saying their selfless actions had “saved lives that day”. (The Herald Sun)