in medicine, "having the power to check, repress, or restrain; inhibitory," 1848, from Late Latin catastalticus, from Greek katastaltikos, from katastellein "to keep down, check," from kata "down" (see cata-) + stellein "arrange, set, place" (from PIE *stel-yo-, suffixed form of root *stel- "to put, stand, put in order," with derivatives referring to a standing object or place).
1530s, "reversal of what is expected" (especially a fatal turning point in a drama, the winding up of the plot), from Latin catastropha, from Greek katastrophē "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" (from PIE root *streb(h)- "to wind, turn"). The extension to "sudden disaster" is attested from 1748.
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. [Huxley, "Address" to the Geological Society of London, Feb. 19, 1869]
also catawampous, cattywampus, catiwampus, etc. (see "Dictionary of American Slang" for more), American colloquial. The first element perhaps is from obsolete cater "to set or move diagonally" (see catty-cornered); the second element perhaps is related to Scottish wampish "to wriggle, twist, or swerve about." Or perhaps the whole is simply the sort of jocular pseudo-classical formation popular in the slang of 1830s America, with the first element suggesting cata-.
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."
type of American grape, 1857, the name taken from the river in the Carolinas, in which region the grape was found. The river is named for the Katahba Indian group and language (Siouan), from their word katapu "fork of a stream," itself a Muskogean loan-word meaning "separate."
also cat-bird, 1731, common name for the North American thrush (Dumetella Carolinensis), related to the mockingbird, so called from its warning cry, which resembles the meowling of a cat; from cat (n.) + bird (n.1). "Its proper song is voluble, varied, and highly musical" [Century Dictionary].
Catbird seat is a late 19c. Dixieism, popularized by Brooklyn Dodgers baseball announcer Walter "Red" Barber (1908-1992) and by author James Thurber:
"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. [Thurber, "The Catbird Seat," The New Yorker, Nov. 14, 1942]