1 : to make a harsh cry
2 : to protest or complain noisily
Did You Know?
An angry (or amorous) cat can make a lot of noise. As long ago as the mid-1300s, English speakers were using caterwaul for the act of voicing feline passions. The cater part is, of course, connected to the cat, but scholars disagree about whether it traces to Middle Dutch cāter, meaning "tomcat," or if it is really just cat with an "-er" added. The waul is probably imitative in origin; it represents the feline howl itself. English's first caterwaul was a verb focused on feline vocalizations, but by the 1600s it was also being used for similar non-cat noises and for noisy people or things.
The woods were quiet until the sound of a chainsaw caterwauling in the distance broke the calm.
"Between begging calls, the young birds made more practice launches, flapping their wings and jumping. Paired adults were re-forming their relationships; returning birds went in for bouts of head flicking and kissing. Neighbors were in dispute, caterwauling above the din." — Tim Dee, The New York Review of Books, 11 Sept. 2018
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