catapult (n.)
1570s, from Middle French catapulte and directly from Latin catapulta "war machine for throwing," from Greek katapeltes, from kata "against" (see cata-) + base of pallein "to toss, hurl" (see pulse (n.1)). As an airplane-launching device on an aircraft-carrier by 1927.
catapult (v.)
1848, "to throw with a catapult," from catapult (n.). Intransitive sense by 1928. Related: Catapulted; catapulting.
cataract (n.)
early 15c., "a waterfall, floodgate," from Latin cataracta "waterfall," from Greek katarhaktes "waterfall, broken water; a kind of portcullis," noun use of an adjective compound meaning "swooping, down-rushing," from kata "down" (see cata-). The second element is traced either to arhattein "to strike hard" (in which case the compound is kat-arrhattein), or to rhattein "to dash, break."

Its alternative sense in Latin of "portcullis" probably was passed through French to form the English meaning "eye disease" (early 15c.), on the notion of "obstruction" (to eyesight).
catarrh (n.)
late 14c., from Medieval Latin catarrus, from Late Latin catarrhus, from Greek katarrhous "a catarrh, a head cold," literally "a flowing down," earlier kata rrhoos, ultimately from kata- "down" (see cata-) + rhein "to flow" (see rheum). Related: Catarrhalcatarrhous.
catastrophe (n.)
1530s, "reversal of what is expected" (especially a fatal turning point in a drama), from Latin catastropha, from Greek katastrophe "an overturning; a sudden end," from katastrephein "to overturn, turn down, trample on; to come to an end," from kata "down" (see cata-) + strephein "turn" (see strophe). Extension to "sudden disaster" is first recorded 1748.
catastrophic (adj.)
1824, from catastrophe + -ic. Related: Catastrophical; catastrophically.
catastrophism (n.)
as a geological or biological theory, 1869, coined by Huxley from catastrophe + -ism.
By CATASTROPHISM I mean any form of geological speculation which, in order to account for the phenomena of geology, supposes the operation of forces different in their nature, or immeasurably different in power, from those which we at present see in action in the universe. [T.H. Huxley, "Address" to the Geological Society of London, Feb. 19, 1869]
Related: Catastrophist.
catatonia (n.)
1888, from medical Latin catatonia; replacing katatonia (1880s), which was formed directly from Greek kata- "down" (see cata-) + tonos "tone" (see tenet).
catatonic (adj.)
1899, from catatonia + -ic. As a noun from 1902.
catawampus (adj.)
also catawampous, cattywampus, catiwampus, etc. (see "Dictionary of American Slang" for more), American colloquial. First element perhaps from obsolete cater "to set or move diagonally" (see catty-cornered); second element perhaps related to Scottish wampish "to wriggle, twist, or swerve about." Or perhaps simply the sort of jocular pseudo-classical formation popular in the slang of those times, with the first element suggesting Greek kata-.

Earliest use seems to be in adverbial form, catawampusly (1834), expressing no certain meaning but adding intensity to the action: "utterly, completely; with avidity, fiercely, eagerly." It appears as a noun from 1843, as a name for an imaginary hobgoblin or fright, perhaps from influence of catamount. The adjective is attested from the 1840s as an intensive, but this is only in British lampoons of American speech and might not be authentic. It was used in the U.S. by 1864 in a sense of "askew, awry, wrong" and by 1873 (noted as a peculiarity of North Carolina speech) as "in a diagonal position, on a bias, crooked."
Catawba (n.)
type of American grape, 1857, the name is that of a river in South Carolina, U.S., where the grape was found. The river is named for the Katahba Indian group and language (Siouan), from katapu "fork of a stream," itself a Muskogean loan-word.
catbird (n.)
1731, common name for the North American thrush (Dumetella Carolinensis), so called from its warning cry, which resembles that of a cat; from cat (n.) + bird (n.1). Catbird seat is a 19c. Dixieism, popularized by Brooklyn Dodgers baseball announcer Red Barber and by author James Thurber (1942).
"She must be a Dodger fan," he had said. "Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions--picked 'em up down South." Joey had gone on to explain one or two. "Tearing up the pea patch" meant going on a rampage; "sitting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. [James Thurber, "The Catbird Seat," "The New Yorker," Nov. 14, 1942]
catcall (n.)
1650s, a type of noisemaker used to express dissatisfaction in play-houses, from cat (n.) + call (n.); presumably because it sounded like an angry cat. As a verb, attested from 1734.
catch (v.)
c.1200, "to take, capture," from Anglo-French or Old North French cachier "catch, capture" (animals) (Old French chacier "hunt, pursue, drive (animals)," Modern French chasser "to hunt;" making it a doublet of chase (v.)), from Vulgar Latin *captiare "try to seize, chase" (also source of Spanish cazar, Italian cacciare), from Latin captare "to take, hold," frequentative of Latin capere "to take, hold" (see capable).

Senses in early Middle English also included "chase, hunt," which later went with chase (v.). Of infections from 1540s; of fire from 1734; of sleep, etc., from early 14c. Related: Catched (obsolete); catching; caught.

Meaning "act as a catcher in baseball" recorded from 1865. To catch on "apprehend" is 1884, American English colloquial. To catch (someone's) eye is first attested 1813, in Jane Austen. Catch as catch can first attested late 14c.
catch (n.)
late 14c., "device to hold a latch of a door," also "a trap;" also "a fishing vessel," from catch (v.). Meaning "action of catching" attested from 1570s. Meaning "that which is caught or worth catching" (later especially of spouses) is from 1590s. Sense of "hidden cost, qualification, etc." is slang first recorded 1855 in P.T. Barnum.
Catch-22 (n.)
from the title of Joseph Heller's 1961 novel. In widespread use only after release of the movie based on the book in 1970. The "catch" is that a bomber pilot is insane if he flies combat missions without asking to be relieved from duty, and is thus eligible to be relieved from duty. But if he asks to be relieved from duty, that means he's sane and has to keep flying.
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.
See catch (n.).
catch-all (n.)
also catchall, 1838, from catch (v.) + all.
catch-up (n.)
"a working to overtake a leading rival," by 1971, probably a figurative use from U.S. football in reference to being behind in the score. From verbal phrase catch up, which was used from early 14c. in sense "raise aloft" and from 1855 in sense "overtake;" see catch (v.) + up (adv.).
catcher (n.)
"one who catches," in any sense, mid-14c., agent noun from catch (v.).
catching (adj.)
1580s, of diseases, present participle adjective from catch (v.). From 1650s as "captivating." Related: Catchingly.
catchment (n.)
1844, from catch (v.) + -ment.
catchphrase (n.)
also catch-phrase, 1837, from catch (v.) + phrase (n.). The notion is of words that will "catch" in the mind (compare catchword).
catchpoll (n.)
Old English *kæcepol "tax-gatherer," from Old North French cachepol (Old French chacepol), from Medieval Latin cacepollus "a tax gatherer," literally "chase-chicken." For first element see chase (v.), for second see pullet. In lieu of taxes they would confiscate poultry. Later in English more specifically as "a sheriff's officer whose duty was to make arrests for debt." Compare Old French chacipolerie "tax paid to a nobleman by his subjects allowing them and their families to shelter in his castle in wartime."
catchup (n.)
see ketchup.
catchword (n.)
1730, "the first word of the following page inserted at the lower right-hand corner of each page of a book," from catch (v.) + word (n.); extended to "word caught up and repeated" (especially in the political sense) by 1795. The literal sense is extinct; the figurative sense thrives.
catchy (adj.)
1831, from catch (v.) + -y (2). Considered colloquial at first. Related: Catchiness.
catechesis (n.)
from Greek katekhesis "instruction by word of mouth," from katekhein "to instruct orally," originally "to resound" (with sense evolution via "to sound (something) in someone's ear; to teach by word of mouth." From kata- "down" (in this case, "thoroughly") + ekhein "to sound, ring," from ekhe "sound," from PIE *(s)wagh- "to resound" (see echo (n.)). Related: Catachectic; catachectical.
catechise (v.)
chiefly British English spelling of catechize; for suffix, see -ize. Related: Catechised; catechising.
catechism (n.)
c.1500, "instruction in Christian principles," also "elementary question-and-answer book of religious instruction," from French catéchisme (14c.) and directly from Church Latin catechismus "book of instruction," from Greek katekhismos, from katekhizein "to teach orally" (see catechize). Related: Catechismal.
catechist (n.)
1560s, from Church Latin catechista, from Greek katekhistes "one who catechizes," from katekhizein "to teach orally" (see catechize). Related: Catechistic; catechistical.
catechize (v.)
early 15c., from Church Latin catechizare "to teach by word of mouth" (also source of French catéchiser, Spanish catequizar, Italian catechizzare), from Greek katekhizein "teach orally, instruct by word of mouth," from katekhein "to resound" (see catechesis). Related: Catechized; catechizing.
catecholamine (n.)
type of hormone, from catechol (1880), from catechu, 17c. name for an astringent substance used in medicines, dyeing, etc., which apparently is from Malay kachu.
catechumen (n.)
"new convert," 15c., from French catéchumène, from Church Latin catechumenus, from Greek katekhoumenos "one being instructed," passive present participle of katekhein (see catechesis).
categorical (adj.)
1590s, as a term in logic, "unqualified, asserting absolutely," from Late Latin categoricus, from Greek kategorikos "accusatory, affirmative, categorical," from kategoria (see category). General sense of "explicit, unconditional" is from 1610s. Categorical imperative, from the philosophy of Kant, first recorded 1827. Related: Categorically.
categorization (n.)
1866, noun of action from categorize. Perhaps influenced by French catégorisation (1845).
categorize (v.)
1705, from category + -ize. Related: Categorized; categorizing.
category (n.)
1580s, from Middle French catégorie, from Late Latin categoria, from Greek kategoria "accusation, prediction, category," verbal noun from kategorein "to speak against; to accuse, assert, predicate," from kata "down to" (or perhaps "against;" see cata-) + agoreuein "to harangue, to declaim (in the assembly)," from agora "public assembly" (see agora). Original sense of "accuse" weakened to "assert, name" by the time Aristotle applied kategoria to his 10 classes of things that can be named.
category should be used by no-one who is not prepared to state (1) that he does not mean class, & (2) that he knows the difference between the two .... [Fowler]
catenary (adj.)
1872, from Latin catenarius "relating to a chain," from catenanus "chained, fettered," from catena "chain, fetter, shackle" (see chain (n.)). As a noun from 1788 in mathematics. Related: Catenarian.
cater (v.)
"provide food for," c.1600, from Middle English catour (n.) "buyer of provisions" (c.1400; late 13c. as a surname), a shortening of Anglo-French achatour "buyer" (Old North French acatour, Old French achatour, 13c., Modern French acheteur), from Old French achater "to buy," originally "to buy provisions," perhaps from Vulgar Latin *accaptare, from Latin ad- "to" + captare "to take, hold," frequentative of capere "to take" (see capable).

Or else from Vulgar Latin *accapitare "to add to one's capital," with second element from verbal stem of Latin caput (genitive capitis); see capital (adj.). Figuratively from 1650s. Related: Catered; catering.
caterer (n.)
mid-15c., earlier simply cater (see cater (v.)). With redundant -er (compare poulterer, sorcerer, upholsterer).
caterpillar (n.)
mid-15c., catyrpel, probably altered (by association with Middle English piller "plunderer;" see pillage) from Old North French caterpilose "caterpillar" (Old French chatepelose), literally "shaggy cat" (probably in reference to the "wooly-bear" variety), from Late Latin catta pilosa, from catta "cat" (see cat (n.)) + pilosus "hairy, shaggy, covered with hair," from pilus "hair" (see pile (n.3)). Compare also French chenille "caterpillar," literally "little dog." A Swiss German name for it is teufelskatz "devil's cat." "The caterpillar has in many idioms received the name of other animals" [Kitchin, who cites also Milanese cagnon "little dog," Italian dialectal gattola "little cat," Kentish hop-dog, hop-cat, Portuguese lagarta "lizard." Compare also American English wooly-bear for the hairy variety. An Old English name for it was cawelworm "cole-worm." Caterpillar tractor is from 1908.
caterwaul (v.)
late 14c., caterwrawen, perhaps from Low German katerwaulen "cry like a cat," or formed in English from cater, from Middle Dutch cater "tomcat" + Middle English waul "to yowl," apparently from Old English *wrag, *wrah "angry," of uncertain origin but all somehow imitative. Related: Caterwauled; caterwauling.
catfish (n.)
1610s, from cat (n.) + fish (n.). Probably so called for its "whiskers."
catgut (n.)
1590s, altered from kitgut, probably from obsolete kit (n.2) "fiddle" + gut (n.). It was made from the intestines of sheep.
Cathar (n.)
1570s, "religious puritan" (implied in Catharism), from Medieval Latin Cathari "the Pure," name taken by Novatians and other Christian sects, from New Testament Greek katharezein "to make clean," from Greek katheros "pure." Related: Catharist.
catharsis (n.)
1803, "bodily purging," from Latinized form of Greek katharsis "purging, cleansing," from stem of kathairein "to purify, purge," from katharos "pure, clear of dirt, clean, spotless; open, free; clear of shame or guilt; purified" (with most of the extended senses now found in Modern English clear, clean, pure), of unknown origin. Originally medical in English; of emotions from 1872; psychotherapy sense first recorded 1909, in Brill's translation of Freud.
cathartic (adj.)
1610s, of medicines, from Latin catharticus, from Greek kathartikos "fit for cleansing, purgative," from katharsis "purging, cleansing" (see catharsis). General sense is from 1670s. Related: Cathartical.
Cathay (n.)
1560s, poetic name for "China," from Medieval Latin Cataya, from Turkish Khitai, from Uighur Khitai, name of a Tatar dynasty that ruled Beijing 936-1122.
cathected (adj.)
1936, psychoanalysis jargon, back-formation from cathectic (1927), from Greek kathektikos, from kathexis (see cathexis).
cathedra (n.)
"seat of a bishop in his church," Latin, literally "chair" (see cathedral).