catawampus

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

adjective

askew; awry.
positioned diagonally; cater-cornered.

adverb

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

Nearby words

  1. catatonia,
  2. catatonic,
  3. catatonic rigidity,
  4. catatonic schizophrenia,
  5. catatricrotism,
  6. catawba,
  7. cataño,
  8. catbird,
  9. catbird seat,
  10. catboat


Origin of catawampus

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. 2019

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Word Origin and History for catawampus

catawampus

adj.

also catawampous, cattywampus, catiwampus, etc. (see "Dictionary of American Slang" for more), American colloquial. First element perhaps from obsolete cater "to set or move diagonally" (see catty-cornered); second element perhaps related to Scottish wampish "to wriggle, twist, or swerve about." Or perhaps simply the sort of jocular pseudo-classical formation popular in the slang of those times, with the first element suggesting Greek kata-.

Earliest use seems to be in adverbial form, catawampusly (1834), expressing no certain meaning but adding intensity to the action: "utterly, completely; with avidity, fiercely, eagerly." It appears as a noun from 1843, as a name for an imaginary hobgoblin or fright, perhaps from influence of catamount. The adjective is attested from the 1840s as an intensive, but this is only in British lampoons of American speech and might not be authentic. It was used in the U.S. by 1864 in a sense of "askew, awry, wrong" and by 1873 (noted as a peculiarity of North Carolina speech) as "in a diagonal position, on a bias, crooked."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper