1570s, from Middle French catapulte and directly from Latin catapulta "war machine for throwing," from Greek katapeltes, from kata "against" (see cata-) + base of pallein "to toss, hurl" (see pulse (n.1)). As an airplane-launching device on an aircraft-carrier by 1927.
1848, "to throw with a catapult," from catapult (n.). Intransitive sense by 1928. Related: Catapulted; catapulting.