BEING AN AUSPICIOUS CHRONICLER OF ENGLISH LITERATURE, CONNECTING CHAUCER TO TRAVERS TO ROWLING IN A SINGLE MOVE!
v. — the noise cats make in mating season
— to make a discordant, hideous noise; to quarrel like cats
fm. inspecific origins. Cat is obvious enough, but waul could come from a variety of languages and forms related to noises or animal husbandry. The Middle Dutch wrauwen led to the English verb wraw, to mew like a cat, for instance, itself very close to the German ravelen, similarly related to the behavior of cats.
What is certain: It’s an old word, appearing in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath Tale—and later used as the name of the cat-sound charm that announces the return of Harry Potter to Hogsmeade in Deathly Hallows.
first published. 1385
inspiration. Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers, which I watched with my young daughter the other day and caught Mr. Banks complaining about the caterwauling of the house staff. What a good word for children.