Curiosity Killed the Cat
The original form of the proverb, now little used, was “Care killed the cat”. In this instance, “care” was defined as “worry” or “sorrow. ” An easier definiton of the phrase curiosity killed the cat would be that being curious can sometimes lead to trouble. |Well everyone knows that cats are very curious creatures and poke their nose everywhere which can cause trouble. | | |The saying or phrase was first attested in the USA in 1909. It is one of the fairly new sayings and it first appearance in writing was in a | |1921-1922 play by Euene ONeill. A variation is ‘Curiosity killed the cat: satisfaction brought him back. ‘” | | | |Elsewhere , it is stated that the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is actually a spin-off of an old saying that really had nothing at all | |to do with the cat’s natural sleuthing abilities!
In the 16th century, there was a saying, “care kills a cat”. | | | |This statement meant that cats seemed to be very cautious, careful and worrisome creatures, and too much anxiety can be bad for one’s | |health, even to the point of sending one to an early grave. A cat, then, could be killed by excessive “care” as indeed could a human. Over | |the years, the meaning of the word “care” changed, and the word “curiosity” was substituted in the phrase, intending to explain that this | |was a trait that got both people and cats into trouble sometimes! 1 Origin The earliest printed reference to the original proverb is attributed to the British playwright Ben Jonson in his 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour, which was performed first by William Shakespeare. … Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care will kill a cat, up-tails all, and a pox on the hangman. Shakespeare used a similar quote in his circa 1599 play, Much Ado About Nothing: |“ |What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care. |” | The proverb remained the same until at least 1898.
Ebenezer Cobham Brewer included this definition in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: |“ |Care killed the Cat. |” | | |It is said that “a cat has nine lives,” yet care would wear them all out. | | 2 Transformation The origin of the modern variation is unknown. The earliest known printed reference to the actual phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” is in James Allan Mair’s 1873 compendium A handbook of proverbs: English, Scottish, Irish, American, Shakesperean, and scriptural; and family mottoes, where it is listed as an Irish proverb on page 34.
In the 1902 edition of Proverbs: Maxims and Phrases, by John Hendricks Bechtel, the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” is the lone entry under the topic “Curiosity” on page 100. O. Henry’s 1909 short story “Schools and Schools” includes a mention that suggests knowledge of the proverb had become widespread by that time: |“ |Curiosity can do more things than kill a cat; and if emotions, well recognized as feminine, are inimical to feline life, then |” | | |jealousy would soon leave the whole world catless. | | The actual phrase appeared as the headline to a story in The Washington Post on 4 March 1916 (page 6): “ |CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT. |” | | | | | | |Four Departments of New York City Government Summoned to Rescue Feline. | | | | | | | |From the New York World. | | | | | | | |Curiosity, as you may recall— | | | | | | | |On the fifth floor of the apartment house at 203 West 130th street lives Miss Mable Godfrey.
When she came to the house about seven | | | |months ago she brought Blackie, a cat of several years’ experience of life. | | | | | | | |The cat seldom left the apartment. He was a hearth cat, not a fence cat, and did not dearly love to sing. In other respects he was | | | |normal and hence curious. | | | | | | |Last Tuesday afternoon when Miss Godfrey was out Blackie skipped into the grate fireplace in a rear room. He had done this many times | | | |before. But he had not climbed up the flue to the chimney. This he did Tuesday. Blackie there remained, perched on the top of the | | | |screen separating the apartment flue from the main chimney, crying for assistance. Miss Godfrey, returning, tried to induce her pet to | | | |come down.
If you are experienced in felinity, you know that Blackie didn’t come down. | | | | | | | |On Wednesday the cat, curiosity unsatisfied, tried to climb higher—and fell to the first floor. His cries could still be heard by Miss | | | |Godfrey; who, to effect Blackie’s rescue, communicated with the following departments: | | | |1. Police department. | | | |2. Fire department. | | | |3. Health department. | | | |4. Building department. | | | |5.
Washington Heights court. | | | | | | | |Among them they lowered a rope to Blackie. But it availed neither the cat nor them anything. | | | |Thursday morning, just before noon, a plumber opened the rear wall back of the chimney. Blackie was taken out. His fall had injured his| | | |back. Ten minutes later Blackie died. | | Despite these earlier appearances, the proverb has been wrongly attributed to Eugene O’Neill, who included the variation, “Curiosity killed a cat! ” in his play Diff’rent from 1920: “ |BENNY—(with a wink) Curiosity killed a cat! Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. |” | The author Stephen King has used an extended variation of this idiom in several of his novellas: “Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back”. Curiosity killed the cat more like this… … other phrases about: Animals 1 Meaning Inquisitiveness can lead one into dangerous situations. 2 Origin Everyone knows that, despite its supposed nine lives, curiosity killed the cat. Well, not quite. The ‘killed the cat’ proverb originated as ‘care killed the cat’.
By ‘care’ the coiner of the expression meant ‘worry/sorrow’ rather than our more usual contemporary ‘look after/provide for’ meaning. That form of the expression is first recorded 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. ” The play was one of the Tudor humours comedies, in which each major character is assigned a particular ‘humour’ or trait. The play is thought to have been performed in 1598 by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a troupe of actors including William Shakespeare and William Kempe.
Shakespeare was no slouch when it came to appropriating a memorable line and it crops up 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 proverbial expression ‘curiosity killed the cat’, which is usually used when attempting to stop someone asking unwanted questions, is much more recent. The earlier form was still in use in 1898, when it was defined 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. Curiosity hasn’t received a good press over the centuries. Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions, AD 397, that, in the eons before creating heaven and earth, God “fashioned hell for the inquisitive”. John Clarke, in Paroemiologia, 1639 suggested that “He that pryeth into every cloud may be struck with a thunderbolt”. In Don Juan, Lord Byron called curiosity “that low vice”. That bad opinion, and the fact that cats are notoriously inquisitive, lead to the source of their demise being changed from ‘care’ to ‘curiosity’.
The earliest version that I have found of the precise current form of the proverb in print is from The Galveston Daily News, 1898: It is said that once “curiosity killed a Thomas cat. ” [Thomas cat is a jokey form of tom cat, i. e. a male cat. ] The frequent rejoinder to ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is ‘satisfaction brought it back’. I’ve not been able to trace the source of this odd reply. The first citation of it that I’ve found in print is from an Iowan college magazine.