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

Using food as a catalyst for community involvement, community empowerment and healthful eating, Black South Side food activists and entrepreneurs are bringing change to neighborhoods commonly thought of as food deserts. Natalie Wade,, "Activists and farmers tackle food deserts on Chicago’s South Side — 'Food is a tool of resistance’," 28 June 2019 Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, which served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement. Victoria Albert, CBS News, "The Trevor Project CEO on the "unacceptable" rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth," 27 June 2019 Barring smoke signals from the Fed, the next catalyst could come from the upcoming meeting with President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Osaka later this week. Christine Romans, CNN, "Christine Romans: Stocks need a reason to hit record highs," 25 June 2019 In short, Preston has exploited austerity as a catalyst for self-sufficiency. Peter S. Goodman, New York Times, "Austerity Has Ravaged U.K. Communities. It Has Also Spurred Reinvention.," 22 June 2019 Avon is going to be handful with rising junior Jayden Brewer as the catalyst. Kyle Neddenriep, Indianapolis Star, "HS notebook: How tweak to IHSAA tournament success factor affects sectional realignment," 18 June 2019 The Stonewall Riots of 1969 are often considered as the catalyst for the LGBTQ rights movement, after a police raid that took place at the now-historic bar in June of that year. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "Taylor Swift Performs at Stonewall Inn's Pride Celebration," 15 June 2019 Their catalyst for unifying to force the prince from power could come from Turkish revelations that embolden Congress to oppose Mr. Trump’s efforts to continue a strong strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed. Karen Elliott House, WSJ, "The Saudi Crown Prince’s Uncertain Fate," 22 Oct. 2018 But by far the most significant catalyst came at the end of December: his father, who’d been struggling with addiction, was once again ready to get help, a decision Mendoza supported. Cat Ferguson, The Verge, "Predatory behavior runs rampant in Facebook’s addiction support groups," 21 May 2018

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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Statistics for catalyst

Last Updated

2 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for catalyst

The first known use of catalyst was in 1902

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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



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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