December 01, 2018
caterwaul (verb)
\KAT-er-wawl\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
: to make a harsh cry
How do you use it?
I could hear Paul caterwauling when he found his baby sister playing with his new phone.
Are you a word wiz?

English speakers first used the verb "caterwaul" to refer to a particular kind of noisemaking. What do you think was the source of the noise?

As long ago as the mid-1300s, English speakers were using "caterwaul" for the howling of an angry cat. The word's origins are a little unclear. "Cater-" has something to do with "cat." It might trace to the Dutch word "cater," meaning "tomcat," but it could just be "cat" with an "-er" added. The "-waul" is probably imitative in origin and represents the sound of a cat's howl. By the 1600s, the meaning of "caterwaul" had expanded to include noisy people or things. By the 1700s, people were also using "caterwaul" as a noun for any sound similar to a yowling tomcat.
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