phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by ESC on December 18, 2002

In Reply to: Curiosity posted by TheFallen on December 18, 2002

: : Hello,

: : I'm a grandpa several times over and I love this place. Already passed the word to a few people.

: : This question comes by way of my wife's nine month old kitten, Callie, who wants to know where we got the saying: "Curiosity killed the Cat." I suspect she's curious about her own family tree.

: : Bye for now.
: : Frank C.

: It's a good question - I'm finding references to the fact that the original (16th century?) phrase was "care kills the cat", no doubt referring to the independent streak that cats have, but that the proverb got altered over the ensuing years. I've also seen claims that the full version of the proverb is "curiosity killed the cat, and satisfaction brought it back". Nothing conclusive though.

From the archives:
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT - Anyone who has cats knows they tend to poke their feline noses everywhere. That could be dangerous. The "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Titelman states: "An overly inquisitive person is likely to get hurt. Children are usually warned against curiosity. The proverb was first attested in the United States in 1909. In 1921, it was used by (playwright) Eugene O'Neill.(A variation is) 'Curiosity killed the cat: satisfaction brought him back.'"

"Wise Words and Wives Tales" (1993, Avon Books) by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner has a more detailed explanation: "There is nothing new about the annoying tendency of some people to ask one question too many. Proverbial admonitions to the overly curious date back to ancient times, but 'Curiosity killed the cat' is apparently a recent invention. Of the earlier sayings, Saint Augustine recorded in 'Confessions' the story of a curious soul who wondered what God did in the eons before creating heaven and earth. 'He fashioned hell for the inquisitive,' came the stern reply, and proverbial sayings of more recent times have been no less forgiving. The seventeenth-century saying, "He that pryeth into every cloud may be struck with a thunderbolt,' appeared in John Clarke's 'Paroemiologia' , and in the nineteenth century, Lord Byron in 'Don Juan' roundly condemned the curious with 'I loathe that low vice curiosity.' An old saw, 'Care (worry) killed the cat.,' dated from Shakespeare's time, but the connection between a cat and curiosity, however natural it may seem now, was not made until a reference to the current proverb appeared in 1909. The adaptation, 'Curiosity can do more things than kill a cat,' was recorded in O. Henry's short story 'Schools and Schools' , and the exact wording of the proverb appeared later in Eugene O'Neill's 'Diff'rent' .