Curiosity Killed The Cat: Meaning & Origin

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What Does ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’ Mean?

Everyone has heard the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’ – but what does it mean? What is the significance of this particular phrase? Let’s take a look.

This commonly used phrase requires an understanding of the context of when it should be used. Oh, and the phrase isn’t as violent as it appears to be – after all, cats do have nine lives.

Meaning Behind ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’

Definition:

‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’ is an expression used as a warning for someone who is overly curious. The phrase is used to warn them that their curiosity and inquisitiveness can have a harmful result and can put people in dangerous situations.

The expression is used to warn people about the dangers of unnecessary investigation and dangerous situations. Think of the expression as a way to stop people from thinking about or exploring potentially risky situations that they know little about.

The difference between curiosity and prying needs to be taken into consideration. The expression even while mentioning ‘curiosity’ is aimed at the prying nature of people and how it can lead to harm, either for themselves or others.

The Origin of ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’

The word ‘curious’ has never been a crowd favorite. In Saint Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ written way back in AD 397 it is written that eons before creating heaven and earth, God “fashioned hell for the inquisitive”. Ouch.

The phrase ‘curiosity’ is developed from an older phrase, ‘care killed the cat’. By ‘care’ the person who coined the expression meant ‘worry/sorrow’ rather than ‘take care of/look after’. The expression finds its first recorded mention in the English playwright Ben Jonson’s play Every Man in His Humour, 1598:

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

It was later used by the famous playwright William Shakespeare in the following year in Much Ado About Nothing: “What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”

The expression ‘curiosity killed the cat’, however, is fairly recent. The expression, with its earlier meaning, was still being used in 1898. It was mentioned in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

“Care killed the Cat. It is said that a cat has nine lives, but care would wear them all out.”

The earliest version comes from The Galveston Daily News, 1898: It is said that once “curiosity killed a Thomas cat.”. The phrase has only gained popularity since the 1900s.

Synonym or Related Phrases

There is only one phrase that comes close to the meaning of ‘curiosity killed the cat’.

  1. Sticking one’s nose into other people’s business

This phrase also adopts the action of ‘prying’ and being overly curious about a person/topic. Sticking one’s nose into other people’s business refers to interfering or prying in a situation where one has no business being. The phrase is more action-driven whereas ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’ is more consequence-driven.

Examples Of Using ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’

  1. Josh and Jennifer have been acting strange around each other lately. I was asking around trying to figure out what happened between them, but my friend said that curiosity killed the cat and I should just leave it alone.
  2. When he started asking too many questions of his neighbors about their whereabouts during the weekend, they warned him that curiosity killed the cat.
  3. When Jane asked George where he was going in the middle of the night, he replied that curiosity killed the cat.
  4. Joe was very curious about where Sarah was getting all her schools and schools money from, but all she said was that curiosity killed the cat.
  5. He refused to answer any of our questions regarding where he spent his vacation, used a rejoinder instead of “curiosity killed the cat”.
  6. Though he knew all about the matter, he refused to divulge it to anyone, only saying that curiosity killed the cat.
  7. “Where are you going all of a sudden?” he asked. “Curiosity killed the cat” she replied.
  8. I won’t reveal any more of the plot than that, but if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that old truism that says that curiosity killed the cat.
  9. She wasn’t the sort of girl to say something like that meant another, still, curiosity killed the cat and James had never been able to resist asking.
  10. When an official with the Department of Family Protective Services visited her in jail and asked the strung-out woman whether she remembered putting the girl in the oven, she responded with “curiosity killed the cat” and “ask me questions and I will lie to you.” –New York Daily News
  11. There are also mistakes. Mr. Forsyth insists that the saying “Curiosity killed the cat” was first recorded in 1921, although it’s in James Allan Mair’s “Handbook of Metaphors” (1873). –Wall Street Journal

PS: This isn’t the only common saying that has to do with animals! Discover the meanings of let sleeping dogs lie and beating a dead horse.


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