cat·​a·​lyst | \ ˈka-tə-ləst How to pronounce catalyst (audio) \

Definition of catalyst

1 : a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible
2 : an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action That waterway became the catalyst of the area's industrialization. He was the catalyst in the native uprising.

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Word History of Catalyst

Catalyst is a fairly recent addition to the English language, first appearing at the start of the 20th century with its chemistry meaning. It was formed from the word catalysis, another chemistry term which refers to a modification and especially an increase in the rate of a chemical reaction induced by material unchanged chemically at the end of the reaction. By the 1940s, the figurative sense of catalyst was in use for someone or something that quickly causes change or action.

Examples of catalyst in a Sentence

The bombing attack was the catalyst for war. She was proud to be a catalyst for reform in the government.
Recent Examples on the Web Brooks said this project will be a catalyst for others likely to come forward in the next few months. Erik S. Hanley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "The Bucyrus Club, a new banquet hall, is coming to downtown South Milwaukee thanks to a $2 million gift," 20 Feb. 2020 Young love is such a knock-you-on-your-ass experience and can be a catalyst for so much growth. Joe Lynch, Billboard, "BIIANCO's Gorgeous, Vibey 'Chlorine' Explores a 'Confusing Passion Mess': Video Premiere," 7 Feb. 2020 Stuart Eizenstat, who in the 1990s led a U.S. government campaign for the return of assets belonging to victims of Nazi persecution, said Ms. Beer was a catalyst for the 1998 settlement. James R. Hagerty, WSJ, "Greta Beer Fought to Recover Holocaust-Era Deposits From Swiss Banks," 7 Feb. 2020 But Sun wasn’t convinced that online outrage could be a catalyst for dramatic change. Washington Post, "Doctor’s death from coronavirus sparks a digital uprising, rattling China’s leaders," 7 Feb. 2020 The first Women’s March, when millions of women gathered in the nation’s capitol and cities across the United States to protest the new administration the day after Trump was inaugurated, was a catalyst for many of those women who ran for office. Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, "The 4th annual Women's March: From global movement to local activism," 17 Jan. 2020 Experts warned Friday that the strike could instead be a catalyst for greater violence. Louisa Loveluck, Anchorage Daily News, "Iran vows revenge after U.S. drone strike kills elite force commander," 3 Jan. 2020 My goal, my intent, is just to be a catalyst for change. Tim Fitzsimons, NBC News, "Fired lesbian guidance counselor sues Indianapolis archdiocese," 23 Oct. 2019 However, his goal against Norwich last time out could be a catalyst for his season, and gives Smith a reason to put faith in the Brazilian., "A Way Too Early Assessment of Aston Villa's Summer Signings," 14 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'catalyst.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of catalyst

1902, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for catalyst

see catalysis

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Time Traveler for catalyst

Time Traveler

The first known use of catalyst was in 1902

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Statistics for catalyst

Last Updated

26 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for catalyst



Financial Definition of catalyst

What It Is

A catalyst is news or information that changes a pricing trend in a security.

How It Works

Let's assume that Company XYZ announces earnings that far exceed analysts' expectations. This information could serve as a catalyst that kick-starts trading in the stock and changes its perception from a "dog" to a "star" among investors.

Catalysts can drive an investment up or down. A favorable event can push a stock to new heights, but if events turn sour, the exit for these shares can be very narrow and very crowded.

Let's take the example of a classic investment catalyst: adverse press publicity. A fundamentally strong company can get unfairly beaten up by the press and by analysts, driving down its stock price to unjustified lows. In this case, the catalyst would signal a great opportunity for investors to buy, not sell.

Why It Matters

Catalysts can change the perception of a security. They can be almost anything: earnings releases, favorable or unfavorable economic reports, management changes, new products, product recalls, successful (or unsuccessful) marketing campaigns, lawsuits, etc.

Quite often, catalysts are the news or events that finally call attention to fundamentals or other intrinsic factors that have existed for some time in a security. When investors can identify what events or information will be catalysts for a particular security, they essentially are able to predict which way the security will go if and when the information becomes public knowledge.

However, catalysts must be considered within the context of investment strategy. Investors buy when they anticipate the market will rise; they sell when they anticipate the market will fall. Catalysts are only one factor in the equation.

Source: Investing Answers


How to pronounce catalyst (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of catalyst

technical : a substance that causes a chemical reaction to happen more quickly
: a person or event that quickly causes change or action


cat·​a·​lyst | \ ˈkat-ᵊl-əst How to pronounce catalyst (audio) \

Medical Definition of catalyst

: a substance (as an enzyme) that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible

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