"disagreeable howling or screeching," like that of a cat in heat, 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 somehow imitative. Related: Caterwauled; caterwauling. As a noun from 1708.
representation of cat sound, 1842, earlier miaow, miau, meaw (1630s). Of imitative origin, compare French miaou, German miauen, Persian maw, Japanese nya nya, Arabic nau-nau, and Joyce's mrkgnao. In Chinese, miau means "cat." As a verb in English by 1630s, meaw, also meawle. Compare Old French miauer "to meow, caterwaul." Related: Meowed; meowing.