I recently discovered a friend who always believed that cheesy, corny and tacky meant (to use their words) a "pornographic display of emotion".

As in: The end of a TV show where that Dad says to the son, "I love you and I want the best for you". To them such things are "cheesy" because they're too "explicitly emotional" -- but not because they're cheap or insincere.

So when they heard people say "that song is cheesy" or "the ending of that movie was so tacky" they thought it was referring to an exposed display of emotion which makes them feel uncomfortable. Not necessarily because the movie was trying too hard, and therefore coming across as fake or mawkish, but simply because the characters were sharing their innermost.

For example, this person could be at a wedding in real life, and watching a proud father welcome his new daughter-in-law to their family, describe it as "tacky" -- solely because his feelings are on display.

I've explained that corny, tacky and cheesy actually refer to insincerity and cheapness, much to their surprise, but now I'm wondering if there is such a word the means what they thought other people were referring to.

Is there a word that to negatively describe an overt display of sincere (ie. not mawkish, contrived or exaggerated) emotion?

Edit: I don't think this question can be answered, as I believe looking upon such things negatively is purely in the eyes of the beholder, and not necessarily something that is objectively appreciated by a large number of people. Happy to be proven wrong, but to restate: I'm not referring to exaggerated or overly sentimental displays of emotion -- just honest displays of deep emotion, period.


13 Answers 13


I think mawkish may convey the meaning you are referring to:

  • sad or romantic in a foolish or exaggerated way

  • excessively and objectionably sentimental.


  • Is this a word you've heard used? I certainly haven't.
    – DCShannon
    Feb 5, 2016 at 21:49
  • 3
    @DCShannon - yes, heard and read: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Feb 5, 2016 at 21:58
  • I noticed this word on the possible duplicate question, and there were a number of people there saying they hadn't heard it either. Sounds like it might get used more in BE, and perhaps as jargon in critical reviews.
    – DCShannon
    Feb 5, 2016 at 21:59
  • @DCShannon - according to Gogle Books it appears to be used both in AmE and BrE : books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Feb 5, 2016 at 22:02
  • Yeah, it's a bit higher on the BE side, but not much. Ngrams don't tell you a lot about spoken usage. Here's the same graph with some of the answers here I've actually heard: books.google.com/ngrams/…. I'm pretty surprised mawkish is anywhere near sappy.
    – DCShannon
    Feb 5, 2016 at 22:08

Another related word is maudlin

  • showing or expressing too much emotion especially in a foolish or annoying way
  • drunk enough to be emotionally silly
  • weakly and effusively sentimental



How about saccharine? It means overly sweet or sentimental, both literally and figuratively.


  • ingratiatingly or affectedly agreeable or friendly

  • overly sentimental : mawkish a saccharine love story

the movie was funny, but it had a saccharine ending in which everyone lives happily ever after

Source: Mirriam-Webster (click to see further definitions)

  • 1
    Note that saccharine generally refers to positive emotions; a movie that was excessively sad wouldn't be described as "saccharine", even if its sadness was over-the-top. Feb 5, 2016 at 22:09
  • Agreed. I've always understood saccharine to mean "falsely sweet", as in "[my girlfriend] gave me one of her saccharine smiles" (Keith Waterhouse in "Billy Liar"). The point of course is that saccharine is an artificial sweetener used instead of sugar. Feb 6, 2016 at 18:56

Maybe these convey the meaning


expressing much love or sentimentality


music, art, etc., that is very sad or romantic in usually a foolish or exaggerated way


​showing or ​feeling too much of ​emotions such as ​love or ​sympathy, ​rather than being ​reasonable or ​practical:

More: syrupy, sickly

  • 3
    +1 for lovey-dovey. I'm not familiar with "soppy", but it looks like it might be the BE version of "sappy", which would probably be the best answer. I guess I won't post it since you have "soppy"?
    – DCShannon
    Feb 5, 2016 at 21:51
  • @DCShannon I think they are subtley different (sappy and soppy). Soppy is kind of endearing ("don't be so soppy, dear"), wheras sappy is Something or someone very lame, or so sweet that it makes you want to puke Feb 7, 2016 at 0:09
  • @GreenAsJade So sappy is better suited for this question, perhaps.
    – NVZ
    Feb 7, 2016 at 3:45
  • schmaltzy, from Yiddish schmaltz, rendered fat. I like it!
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 7, 2016 at 11:28
  • I'm not sure soppy is endearing. The example could be a scolding in another context. OED's saying similar to the posted definition: self-indulgently sentimental and lacking spirit and strength of character; feeble.
    – nruth
    Feb 9, 2016 at 23:03

In British conversational usage, I'd suggest the following. Definitions from OED (2013).

Over the top / over-the-top

This one's a bit passive-aggressive, but I'd guess it's the most common.

over the top
1 informal to an excessive or exaggerated degree: some 
performances go over the top.

informal excessive or exaggerated: failed, over-the-top 
attempts at humour | his reactions had been a bit over the top.


This is more negative or critical. For example a parent scolding their child with "Oh don't be so melodramatic" when they're crying about something trivial.

melodramatic |mɛlədrəˈmatɪk|
characteristic of melodrama, especially in being exaggerated or
overemotional: he flung the door open with a melodramatic flourish.

melodrama |ˈmɛlə(ʊ)drɑːmə|
1 a sensational dramatic piece with exaggerated characters and 
exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions. 
he gloated like a villain in a Victorian melodrama.

I'm not sure if I'm answering the question though. There's social context: we're fairly reserved (stereotypically), and this seems to be criticising the person's "bad behaviour" or questioning its authenticity, rather than describing the display of emotion.


Histrionic may work in some cases (definition from dictionary reference):

... deliberately affected or self-consciously emotional; overly dramatic, in behavior or speech.

Source: https://quizlet.com/76166676/vocab-week-7-flash-cards/

  • Welcome to EL&U @DavidOlson. You'll find that your answer may be deleted if you don't improve it by providing a definition and a link to the definition.
    – jimm101
    Feb 6, 2016 at 0:42

Treacle (n) or Treacly (adj)

From dictionary.com:

contrived or unrestrained sentimentality

and from merrian-webster:

something that is annoying because it is too sentimental

An example from the latter source of it being used in a sentence:

"The book is ruined by all the treacle about his childhood"

  • That would not be understood in the US. We would replace it with sugary or sappy (for sap from maple trees, used to make syrup). Saccharin would be another substitute for the same word. FWIW, the first time I became acquainted with the word "treacle" was in the Harry Potter books' reference to treacle tart. :-) Feb 5, 2016 at 20:51
  • When I hear "treacle", I think "isn't that some kind of food?".
    – DCShannon
    Feb 5, 2016 at 21:52
  • We would understand syrupy though. Except here in New England where that's a good thing.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 5, 2016 at 22:07
  • @KristinaLopez Ah then you've never read Alice in Wonderland and the dormouse's reference to the treacle mine. What do you call treacle in the US then? We have golden syrup and black treacle (molasses) but also treacle toffee and treacle tart which I guess are made from golden syrup (which comes from sugar cane rather than maple). I think treacle must be an older word which has lingered on.
    – Mynamite
    Feb 6, 2016 at 0:42

There is a military term: public display of affection or PDA

There are certain military-social situations where it is considered a serious faux-pas, if not an offense, to engage in PDA's.


Oversentimental is defined as "excessively emotional or nostalgic, especially in a superficial or self-indulgent way" (here).

  • Over-sentimental is clumsy at best, and requires a hyphen. Feb 7, 2016 at 0:06

Much as I like the Yiddish sense os schmaltzy (a word that leaves me verklempt), and however much I might like mawkish for its down-the-nose, lockjawed musicality, let me offer the heavyweight

perfervid, which http://dictionary.com defines as adjective very fervent; extremely ardent; impassioned

It's all right. Thank you. I'll be fine.

  • Does that have the sense of "too much"?
    – DCShannon
    Feb 5, 2016 at 22:11
  • Admittedly, it's a word I use less than once in a twelvemonth. But yes, I think it does. Both prefix and suffix lift above "fervent", a double-whammy that pushes the sense above intensity to excess.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 5, 2016 at 22:22
  • Possibly not a word to use whilst inebriated - or in the company of inebriates.
    – Magoo
    Feb 6, 2016 at 3:49

Is there a word that to negatively describe an overt display of sincere emotion?

A word new to me came to mind when I read the above question: cloying

disgusting or distasteful by reason of excess ; also : excessively sweet or sentimental

I learned this word from a passage in a book by Dan Harris:

The opening speaker was a woman in her fifties named Tara Brach. She had long brown hair and pleasant Semitic features. She was holding forth in a creamy, cloying tone. The style was astonishingly affected— artificially soft and slow, as if she were trying to give you a Reiki massage with her voice. She exhorted us to love ourselves, “invited” us to close our eyes and “trust in the ocean-ness, in the vastness, in the mystery, in the awareness, in the love— so that you could really sense, ‘Nothing is wrong with me.’ ” I couldn’t bear to look over at Jason, who I imagined must be silently cursing my name.

Harris, Dan (2014-03-11). 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story (p. 111). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


I think the best word is missing from the existing answers: sappy.

Sappy things are characterized by excessive emotions or sentimentality, which may or may not be sincere. This adjective can be used to describe songs, shows, movies, expressions, words, actions, or pretty much anything else.

I think this comes from the idea of sap being sweet, and too much emotion being too much sweetness. Despite this, it can be used for other emotions, such as sadness.

From Merriam-Webster:

sad or romantic in a foolish or exaggerated way

From Cambridge Dictionaries Online:

used to ​describe something that is ​extremely ​emotional in an ​embarrassing way: It's a sappy ​movie - ​your ​husband will ​hate it.

From Macmillan Dictionary:

very emotional in a way that people may find embarrassing or silly: a sappy look on his face, a sappy novel/movie

From the Oxford Dictionaries:

informal, chiefly North American: Excessively sentimental; mawkish
- She realized that all of those sappy love songs filled with clichés were true.
- Their affinity for Beach Boys-like sentiment is apparent in sappy lyrics and songs titles like My First Kiss.


How about an outburst?

a sudden expression of strong feeling
a violent expression of feeling <an outburst of anger>


Alternatively, an outpouring:

an act of expressing an emotion or feeling in a very powerful way
an act of expressing or giving freely


Outburst connotes anger, violence, or passion, while outpouring connotes sympathy, confession, or sentimentality.

  • I note that most answers provide adjectives, so I thought I should provide a few nouns to vary it up a bit. Feb 6, 2016 at 2:00

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