"Curiosity killed the cat" is a proverb used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. A less frequently-seen rejoinder to "curiosity killed the cat" is "but, satisfaction brought it back".
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! |
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. | |
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 |” | |...