cat·​er·​waul ˈka-tər-ˌwȯl How to pronounce caterwaul (audio)
caterwauled; caterwauling; caterwauls

intransitive verb

: to make a harsh cry
: to protest or complain noisily
caterwaul noun

Did you know?

Though the most familiar sense of caterwaul, “to protest or complain loudly,” is not specific to our feline friends, we still think it’s the cat’s meow, and not without good reason. Caterwaul first appeared in English in the 1300s as a verb applied to the wailing sounds made by cats when on the prowl for a mate. The word comes from the Middle English word caterwawen (also caterwrawen), but its origins beyond that are obscure. The cater part is thought to be connected to the cat, but scholars disagree about whether it traces to the Middle Dutch word cāter, meaning “tomcat,” or if it is merely cat with an “-er” added. Wawen is probably imitative in origin, approximating one of the domestic kitty’s many vocalizations. By the 1600s caterwaul was also being used for similar non-cat noises and later as a noun referring to noisy people or things.

Examples of caterwaul in a Sentence

Some animal was caterwauling in my backyard last night. He continues to caterwaul about having to take the blame.
Recent Examples on the Web That said, Shelton’s lyrics are much more darkly relatable and heartbreaking than someone caterwauling about being their own worst enemy. Brenna Ehrlich, Rolling Stone, 21 June 2023 An ambulance caterwauled down Sunset Boulevard, which runs parallel one block below. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 21 Oct. 2022 Until Ivey and the Department of Corrections can explain how the prison construction program caterwauled out of control, lawmakers should put the brakes on all state spending. Kyle Whitmire, al, 17 Mar. 2023 Republicans could caterwaul about the skyrocketing debt without actually having to do anything about it except express their disapproval. Getting most creative. Zachary B. Wolf, CNN, 29 Sep. 2021 In a season of a lively baseball, the Twins hit a silly number of home runs and came caterwauling out of the great north and took their division. Michael Powell, New York Times, 8 Oct. 2019 The media–Democrat caterwauling over Trump’s election-rigging spiel was not rooted in patriotic commitment to the American democratic tradition of accepting election outcomes. Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review, 16 Aug. 2019 Media outlets that caterwaul about all this become the victims of commercial crises. The Economist, 21 June 2018 This lets Congress caterwaul on behalf of special interests while blaming Presidents for not punishing foreigners. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 7 June 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'caterwaul.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English caterwawen

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of caterwaul was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near caterwaul

Cite this Entry

“Caterwaul.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


cat·​er·​waul ˈkat-ər-ˌwȯl How to pronounce caterwaul (audio)
: to make a harsh cry
caterwaul noun
Last Updated: - Updated Did you know?
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