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May 17, 2022

Cattywampus / Adjective / cat·​ty·​wam·​pus

Cattywampus is an American-based colloquialism or slang that etymologists believe to be of Scottish influence. We use “cattywampus” in the English language as an adjective. The word has alternate spellings and we also use it as “catawampus.” This American-based noun modifier has a multi-part description. In one sense of the word, “cattywampus” describes people, places or things we believe to be fierce, animal-like or savage. When used in this sense, the word describes someone we see as frightening.

In a Sentence

The cattywampus became upset and lunged at me!

I’m terribly afraid of a “cattywampus” staring at me when I ride public transportation.

That “cattywampus” of a woman is coming this way, and she looks very upset!


Etymologists say we find the word “cattywampus” used in North American-based slang in the late 1800s. American English-speakers used “cattywampus” to describe people with outrageous temperaments and those seen to go “off-kilter” or ‘awry’ with little provocation. This colloquial slang has been in use with its original definition since its inception in 1864.


Awry, Twisted


Affable, Hospitable


  1. Jeff Abbott

    A good synonym is Irascible or easily angered.

  2. Cyn

    It has been used as upside down or just really messed up. I’ve never heard it meaning savage or threatening.

  3. Mary

    In the examples given, cattywampus is used as a NOUN.

  4. Robert Craig

    About What?

  5. Lauren

    This is not my understanding of cattywampus. In the south anyway, we use it to mean messed up, out of order, askew, not frightening.

  6. Larry Klipp

    I’ve always understood “cattywampus” to mean cockeyed, diagonal, askew. Never heard it used to describe a threading or disagreeable person. From my Scots background.

  7. Scott Richardson

    The definition indicates it is an adjective, which is how I use it. However, the sentence example use the word as a noun which is incorrect.

  8. USMC Veteran

    In other words, Maxine Waters is cattywampus as she told fellow democrats to go after Republicans and conservatives wherever they were, in restaurants, stores, etc.

    Chuck Schumer was cattywampus when he verbally threatened Justices Kavenaugh and Goursch.

    Nancy Peluso was cattywampus when she constantly attacked President Trump over false accusations of Russia collusion.

  9. Cindy

    I have never used it like described. It has always meant “off center” or awry, but not animal like or fierce. A shelf can be cattywampus. It meant it wasn’t straight.

  10. Charlene

    Thank you. Very informative.

  11. Windy Miller

    I’m scotch and English and the word cattywompus we use it as a person or situation as all messed up or things all mixed up, nothing is in order! Like having a bad day!

  12. Jane Hawes

    In my experience this has been used to describe something skewed or off-kilter, the secondary definition. Its use to describe something fierce or savage is new to me.

  13. Darrell Murray

    Hmmm. As a kid I learned that this term was a way describe any situation that was greatly outside the expected boundary as a result of some bad decision, accident, or external influence, as in: “Bill chased the ball but instead tripped and sprawled all cattywampus on the floor. ”

    This I learned in the 1950’s from my parents of Scottish, English and German ancestry.

  14. Darrell Murray

    So where is the comment I submitted several days ago? The handed down usage I grew up with is one that goes back to the age of at least my great grandparents (1860’s) so I would think that would lend a little authenticity to this somewhat different usage of the term. And since my family was in no small part of Scottish ancestry, I would think that would add additional credibility. In any event, if you don’t want comments don’t solicit them. It wastes time.


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