1730, "the first word of the following page inserted at the lower right-hand corner of each page of a book," as a guide to the binders, from catch (v.) + word (n.); extended to "word caught up and repeated" (especially in the political sense) by 1795. The thing in the literal sense is extinct; the figurative sense thrives.
Entries linking to catchword
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"), from Vulgar Latin *captiare "try to seize, chase" (also source of Spanish cazar, Italian cacciare), from Latin captare "to take, hold," frequentative of capere "to take, hold" (from PIE root *kap- "to grasp"). A doublet of chase (v.).
Its senses in early Middle English also included "to chase, hunt," which later went with chase (v.). Of sleep, etc., from early 14c.; of infections from 1540s; of fire from 1734 (compare Greek aptō "fasten, join, attach, grasp, touch," also "light, kindle, set on fire, catch on fire"). Related: Catched (obsolete); catching; caught.
The meaning "act as a catcher in baseball" is recorded from 1865. To catch on "apprehend, understand" is by 1884, American English colloquial. To catch the eye "draw the attention" is attested by 1718. Catch as catch can has roots in late 14c. (cacche who that cacche might).
Old English word "speech, talk, utterance, sentence, statement, news, report, word," from Proto-Germanic *wurda- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian word, Dutch woord, Old High German, German wort, Old Norse orð, Gothic waurd), from PIE *were- (3) "speak, say" (see verb).
The meaning "promise" was in Old English, as was the theological sense. In the plural, the meaning "verbal altercation" (as in have words with someone) dates from mid-15c. Word-processor first recorded 1971; word-processing is from 1972; word-wrap is from 1977. A word to the wise is from Latin phrase verbum sapienti satis est "a word to the wise is enough." Word-for-word "in the exact word or terms" is late 14c. Word of mouth "spoken words, oral communication" (as distinguished from written words) is by 1550s.
It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence. [William Carlos Williams, "Paterson"]
also catchphrase, "phrase caught up and repeated," 1837, from catch (v.) + phrase (n.). The notion is of words that will "catch" in the mind (compare catchword, which is older and might have suggested this word; also catchy). From the first in a political context, also of lines from plays that became popular.
This new experiment consists in a "divorce of bank and State." This is a mere catch-phrase, which was originally introduced by artful and designing politicians to impose upon the credulity and honesty of the people. Many have adopted it without reflecting or inquiring as to its import, or its consequences. [Sen. Talmage (Georgia), U.S. Senate debate on the Sub-Treasury Bill, Sept. 22, 1837]
In political or partisan squibs, the introduction of such phrases may be properly allowed, though sparingly ; for they are most undoubtedly a species of ornament that soon nauseates upon repetition. There is a still lower species of "slang," consisting of the "catch phrase of the day," in great vogue among the gods at the minor theatres, that we only mention to reprobate entirely ; and which, as common sense is no ingredient in its concoction, is as destitute of energy as it is abhorrent to a cultivated ear. ["T.A.," "Guide for the Writing-Desk; or, Young Author's and Secretary's Friend," etc., London, 1846]
updated on November 13, 2022
Dictionary entries near catchword