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Posted by ESC on January 02, 2000

In Reply to: Curiosity Killed the Cat posted by T Beckett on January 02, 2000

: I am trying to find out "How". There must be a story behind this saying. Anyone know it? Where did it come from and why? Thanks for the help.

CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT - Anyone who has cats knows they tend to poke their feline noses everywhere. That could be dangerous. The saying is relatively new and its first written appearance was a 1921 or 1922 (depending on the source) play by Eugene O'Neill.

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' .