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Language Arts

Curiosity Killed the Cat



Curiosity killed the cat? Really? Many of the most popular phrases and sayings, or idioms, are intended as advice for the listener. -Curiosity killed the cat- has become one of those famous expressions because it still applies to situations one may encounter today.

In taking this famous idiom to heart, one must take heed and not let curiosity get the best of them. Being too curious can sometimes put someone in a dangerous situation. The original proverb: "Care Killed the Cat" has since become the popular expression, "Curiosity Killed the Cat." By "care" the coiner of the popular phrase or saying actually mean sorrow or worry, rather than the "looking after" meaning the word "care" sometimes implies. The cat who had too much "care" was killed, according to the meaning behind the phrase. The first literary reference of the now-famous saying "curiosity killed the cat" is found in a place written in 1598 by English Playwright Ben Jonson called "Every Man in His Humour."  

"Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care'll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman." 

The play is thought to have been performed by a troupe of comedic actors including playwright William Shakespeare. Shakespeare later makes reference to "care killed the cat" in his own play, Much Ado About Nothing: "What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care." The term "care" later was changed to "curiosity" for unknown reasons giving us the popular expression, "curiosity killed the cat" that we use today. Although, many have speculated that because cats tend to be curious creatures and like to investigate the unknown, the word "curious" seemed more fitting to advise with such a proverbial saying. One of the oldest uses of the updated expression is found in an article in The Galveston Daily News in 1898: "It is said that once "curiosity killed a Thomas cat." 

An example of use of the popular expression would be," Don't go find out what is in that dark alley. Remember, curiosity killed the cat."  A frequented retort for the popular expression is often said as:  "Curiosity killed the cat, but its satisfaction brought it back." 

Sources: GoEnglish.com, phrases.org.uk