Dictionary.com

catawampus

[ kat-uh-wom-puhs ]
/ ˌkæt əˈwɒm pəs /
Chiefly Midland and Southern U.S.
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adjective

askew; awry.
positioned diagonally; cater-cornered.

adverb

diagonally; obliquely:We took a shortcut and walked catawampus across the field.

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Also cat·ty·wam·pus [kat-ee-wom-puhs, kat-uh-] /ˌkæt iˈwɒm pəs, ˌkæt ə-/ .

Origin of catawampus

First recorded in 1830–40 for earlier sense “utterly”; cata- diagonally (see cater-cornered) + -wampus, perhaps akin to wampish
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

BEHIND THE WORD

Where does catawampus come from?

Catawampus, meaning “askew, diagonal,” is first recorded in the 1830–40s. Originally, catawampus also meant “fierce.” It’s thought to be an American colloquialism influenced by the cater- in cater-cornered (or for many of us, kitty-corner) and wampish, Scottish for “flopping about.”

Many more amusing Americanisms await in our slideshow “These Wacky Words Originated In The USA.”

Did you know … ?

Catawampus is also commonly pronounced more like “cattywampus,” probably due to the influence of words with such variants like cater-corned as catty-cornered and kitty-cornered. Despite what you may be thinking, catawampus has nothing to do with cats.

If catawampus comes in part from cater-cornered, that cater- is from the French quatre (and before, Latin quattor), meaning “four.” Here’s a word connection you can bank on: the English word quarter is closely related to the Latin quattor.

Catawampus has no lexical relation to the Wampus Cat, a cougar-like beast connected to Appalachian folklore that has served as an inspiration for a magical animal of the same name in the world of Harry Potter.

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