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From cat +‎ -ling. Compare kitling, catkin. According to the OED, the sense of a surgical knife may be an independent word.


catling (plural catlings)

  1. (archaic) A little cat; a kitten.
    • (Can we date this quote?), Drummond, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      For never cat nor catling I shall find, / But mew shall they in Pluto's palace blind.
  2. catgut; a catgut string
    • (Can we date this quote?), Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, Act 4, Scene 5:
      "..what say you, Simon Catling?
  3. (surgery) A double-edged, sharp-pointed dismembering knife.
    • 1852, Joseph Pancoast, A Treatise on Operative Surgery:
      The operator [] grasping the soft parts immediately below, raises them so as to facilitate the passage of a double-edged knife or catling across the face of the bones []
    • 1878, Maryland Medical Journal: Medicine and Surgery[1], volume 4, page 284:
      [] after Esmarch we hold back the bloody torrent which once gushed forth after the catling; and Listerizing with Lister's spray we bar all passage into gaping wounds of motes that people the sunbeam and breed havoc in the tract of the sanguineous life stream.


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Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for catling in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)