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Alternative forms[edit]

  • catawamptious; catawampous; cattywampus; cattywampous; caliwampus; caliwampous; cankywampus; kittywampus; gittywampus; skiwampus


In the fierce sense probably from catamount (mountain cat).

The crooked sense may at least partly derive from the same source as the "cater" in cater-corner, which some would derive from Middle French catre (four)- in reference to four corners/square- from Old French quatre (four), from Latin quattuor. This is disputed by others, who suggest a possible Old Norse or other Scandinavian origin. See cater-corner and cater-corner for more.


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˌkætəˈwɑmpəs/, /ˈkætəˌwɑmpəs/


catawampus (comparative more catawampus, superlative most catawampus)

  1. Out of alignment, crooked, cater-corner.
    • 1885, Charles Egbert Craddock, Down the Ravine:
      "Waal, I noticed ez the aidge o' one o' them boards war sot sorter catawampus, ...".
  2. Fierce, destructive.
    • 1844, Charles Dickens, chapter 21, in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit:
      There air some catawampous chawers in the small way too, as graze upon a human pretty strong; but don't mind them, they're company.




catawampus (plural catawampuses)

  1. (US) A fierce imaginary animal, a bogeyman.



  • Jonathan E. Lighter, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume I, A-G. Random House USA, 1994. ISBN 9780394544274.
  • Frederic G. Cassidy, Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume I, A-C. Harvard University Press, 1985. ISBN 0674205111.
  • Eric Partridge, The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang. Routledge, 1973. ISBN 9780710077615.
  • “catawampus” in Mrs. Byrne [Josefa Heifetz Byrne], Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words: Gathered from Numerous and Diverse Authoritative Sources, London: Granada Publishing, 1979, ISBN 978-0-246-11151-7.

Further reading[edit]