Curiosity Killed The Cat (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Curiosity Killed The Cat"?

The term "curiosity killed the cat" means being inquisitive can lead to danger.
Curiosity Killed The Cat (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • When I asked Anna how she could afford such a car, she answered, "Curiosity killed the cat."
  • The CEO knows I was asking about the reason he left his old job. Oh, well. It's true that curiosity killed the cat. I'm toast.
  • My sister won't tell me where she goes every night. All she says is curiosity killed the cat.
The saying "curiosity killed the cat" is typically used to warn against asking questions. It carries the connotation that the asker would be detrimentally affected if the answer were revealed.

This idiom originates from the late 16th century. The original version of the words was "care killed the cat." ("Care" meant concern or worry.) It was used in William Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," which was written around 1598:
  • "What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care."
Some three centuries later, the "care" version was still being used, as evidenced by its appearance in Reverend E. Cobham Brewer's "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable." (Originally published in 1870, the dictionary was revised and enlarged many times. It was referred to simply as "Brewer's").
  • "Care killed the Cat. It is said that a cat has nine lives, but care would wear them all out."
The version we know today, "curiosity killed the cat," is relatively modern, appearing around the end of the 19th century. The word "care" was likely switched for "curiosity" over time as the meaning "care" transformed into its modern meaning ("look after," "protect") and people noticed cats' natural curiosity. The expression "curiosity killed the cat" is also likely to fit more of life's scenarios than "care [worry] killed the cat," and this too doubtless contributed to the popularity of the "curiosity" version.

The saying is an example of alliteration, which affords it some rhythm, and this will also contribute to its popularity.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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