Curiosity killed the cat.

Curiosity killed the cat or was ignorance who made it?

This expression, apart of giving name to: this web, a UK blue-eyed soul group, the NASA’s martian rover, a chinese film and a live album by The Cure, is used to warn about the risks involved in unnecessary investigation and experimentation.

Cats although having 9 lives (7 lives if they are spanish, italian or mexican cats) seem to have problems to survive curiosity. But originally this expression was known as “care killed the cat” where “care” means “worry” or “sorrow” rather than the “look after” meaning of nowadays.

Curious Cat

Curious Cat

The first time that the original expression appeared, was in the english play “Every Man in His Humour”, by Ben Jonson, 1598.

 “Helter Skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman.”

The play is the typical  Tudor-age humours comedies, in which each major character is given a particular ‘humour’ or trait.  It is thought to have been performed in 1598 by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatre company including  William Shakespeare and William Kempe. A year later, Shakespeare used also a similar expression in Much Ado About Nothing:

 “What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”

The phrase used with the current meaning is much more recent. The original use 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 reviews over the centuries. Saint Augustine said that “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”. Maybe that bad reviews led the change from “care” to “curiosity”. It is thought that the earliest version of the current meaning appeared printed in  James Allan Mair’s 1873 compendium A handbook of metaphors: English, Scottish, Irish, American, Shakesperean, and scriptural; and family mottoes, where it is listed as an Irish metaphor on page 34. Then appeared printed in The Galveston Daily News, 1898:

“It is said that once curiosity killed a Thomas cat.”

Finally, what gave this expression a boost was its presence at the headline of The Washington Post, 4 March 1916.


Curiosity killed the cat

Curiosity killed the cat.

Poor Blackie.

Nowadays, there are some variations on the expression as “Ignorance killed the cat, curiosity was framed” and the more known “Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back“. The first appearance of the second one, was inside an Iowan college magazine The Coe College Cosmos, in February 1933. Also, it has been used several times by Stephen King in his books.


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