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Curiosity Killed the Cat

Posted by ESC on June 10, 2000

In Reply to: Curiosity Killed the Cat posted by Rosie Sermeno on June 09, 2000

: Where does this saying come from? I am under the assumption it came from a children's tale in which a cat falls in a pot of boiling soup because he was curious about what was in it.Please Help--I have a bet riding on this!

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' .