wild·​cat | \ˈwī(-ə)l(d)-ˌkat \
plural wildcats

Definition of wildcat 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1a : an Old World cat (Felis silvestris) that resembles but is heavier in build than the domestic tabby cat and is usually held to be among the ancestors of the domestic cat

b or plural wildcat : any of various small or medium-sized cats (such as the lynx or ocelot)

c : a feral domestic cat

2 : a savage quick-tempered person

3a : wildcat money

b : a wildcat oil or gas well

c : a wildcat strike



Definition of wildcat (Entry 2 of 3)

1a(1) : issued by a financially irresponsible banking establishment wildcat currency

(2) : financially irresponsible or unreliable wildcat banks

b : operating, produced, or carried on outside the bounds of standard or legitimate business practices wildcat insurance schemes— H. H. Reichard

c : of, relating to, or being an oil or gas well drilled in territory not known to be productive

d : initiated by a group of workers without formal union approval or in violation of a contract a wildcat strike wildcat work stoppages

2a of a cartridge : having a bullet of standard caliber but using an expanded case or a case designed for a bullet of greater caliber necked down for the smaller bullet

b of a firearm : using wildcat cartridges


wildcatted; wildcatting

Definition of wildcat (Entry 3 of 3)

intransitive verb

: to prospect and drill an experimental oil or gas well or sink a mine shaft in territory not known to be productive

Examples of wildcat in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

But for eco-tourists, the prickly corridor provides some of the most bountiful habitat north of the border for Mexican birds, wildcats, reptiles and butterflies. James F. Mccarty, cleveland.com, "Eco-tourists enjoy Rio Grande Valley as threat of a border wall threatens habitat," 15 Apr. 2018 His wildcat oil firm spent a fortune looking for oil in Petronia, a former colony known for cashmere wool, long before anyone else was willing to take the risk. The Economist, "Fighting the resource curse through online gaming," 28 June 2018 The tumultuous tale of the larger-than-life family behind the Ewing Oil empire premiered April 2, 1978, as a five-episode miniseries, a wildcat exploratory well that turned into a primetime ratings gusher. Bill Keveney, USA TODAY, "'Dallas' turns 40: Counting 40 ways to celebrate, from 'Who Shot J.R.?' to the dream season," 29 Mar. 2018 According to a press release, the red squirrel, Scottish wildcat and grey long-eared bat are particularly threatened. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "The UK’s Hedgehogs (and Other Mammals) Are In Danger," 16 June 2018 At Auburn, Johnson ran mostly between the tackles, occasionally out of a wildcat set, and in an offense that passed the ball less than 40 percent of the time. Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press, "Lions can't let Kerryon Johnson be another Best, Leshoure, Abdullah," 24 May 2018 The union may also have been acknowledging threats by rank-and-file members to engage in a wildcat strike—also emulating West Virginia—if the leadership weren’t sufficiently aggressive. Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg.com, "Oklahoma Teachers Follow West Virginia With April Strike Threat," 9 Mar. 2018 Despite common belief, there are wildcats that bang way harder than panthers. Jermaine Fowler, GQ, "Black Panther," 14 May 2018 The coach also used Smith as a wildcat quarterback and returner as Macon County quickly became a playoff challenger. Brad Biggs, chicagotribune.com, "As they say in Bears draft pick’s hometown: ‘There’s only one Roquan Smith’," 28 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

If any of these wildcat contract strikes are still going on six weeks from now, well, then that actually would be a big deal. Albert Breer, SI.com, "For Pete Carroll’s Seahawks, It’s Time to Compete Again," 11 June 2018 The union moves fast to set a date as members threaten a wildcat action. Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg.com, "Oklahoma Teachers Follow West Virginia With April Strike Threat," 9 Mar. 2018 His high school seems to have him under center a decent amount as the star of a wildcat formation. Alex Schiffer, kansascity, "This week in Mizzou recruiting: Francis Okoro cuts list, pipeline to Michigan and more | The Kansas City Star," 11 May 2018 In 2012, in the worst killing of civilians since the end of apartheid, the police shot dead 34 wildcat strikers at a platinum mine in Marikana belonging to Lonmin, a company where Mr. Ramaphosa sat on the board. Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, "Jacob Zuma Prepares to Depart a Diminished A.N.C.," 16 Dec. 2017 The militants have already proved their ability to launch wildcat bombings in neighborhoods long retaken by the security forces. Louisa Loveluck, Washington Post, "Victory in Mosul leaves survivors reeling: ‘We got our city back, but there is nothing for me in it’," 11 July 2017 Within a year, the wildcat local was crushed by its own parent union, the United Food and Commercial Workers. Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times, "Divisions .Of Labor," 23 Feb. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'wildcat.' 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 wildcat


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1838, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


circa 1903, in the meaning defined above

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Statistics for wildcat

Last Updated

15 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for wildcat

The first known use of wildcat was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for wildcat



English Language Learners Definition of wildcat

: a kind of cat that lives in the wilderness


wild·​cat | \ˈwīld-ˌkat \

Kids Definition of wildcat

: a wild animal (as an ocelot or lynx) of the cat family that is of small or medium size

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More from Merriam-Webster on wildcat

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with wildcat

Spanish Central: Translation of wildcat

Nglish: Translation of wildcat for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about wildcat

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