This expression is typically used as a warning for anyone who is acting excessively curious, as their prying behavior may lead them to harm.
The Origin Of ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’
Here we have a saying that highlights the curious side of a cat’s personality. If you’ve ever owned a cat before, then you probably know just how curious they can be. As someone who’s owned several, let me give an example:
Let’s say you bring home some new furniture, like a nice, comfy chair. A cat will immediately notice and will want to investigate it to figure out what it is. They’ll cautiously approach the chair and start smelling it. Then once they feel comfortable enough, they’ll climb up onto it. Before long, that chair will probably become the cat’s new favorite napping spot.
Another example is if they hear a noise outside. If the cat has access to a window, they might try to scurry over and look outside to see what’s going on. These are just a couple examples, but the point is that cats are curious creatures! So, having said that, this phrase must obviously originate from the curious personality that cats are known for.
Anyways, there is an older form of this expression that goes: “Care killed the cat.” The word “care” in this case seems to be defined as “worry” or “sorrow.” This form of the expression goes back to at least the 16th century. It’s used by a few playwrights during that time. For example, an English playwright named Ben Jonson is said to have used it in a play called Every Man in His Humour, 1598. Another playwright, William Shakespeare, used the expression in the play Much Ado About Nothing, which is thought to have been written in 1599:
“What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.“
So what about the modern form of the phrase (with the word “curiosity” in it)? The earliest I could find it in print is from a book by James Allan Mair. The book is called Proverbs and Family Mottoes, 1891. It’s simply listed as a proverb on one of the pages:
“Curiosity killed the cat.“
See Also: Cat and dog sayings
- My boss warned me that curiosity killed the cat after I kept pestering him to tell me why he fired his last employee.
Note: This site is full of phrase meanings. But when it comes to the origins of many expressions, these are not always known. In cases where the origin is unknown, what you’ll usually see on an idiom’s page is an explanation that talks about how it may have originated. If no explanation is given, then there will generally be a quote of the phrase. I try to the earliest appearance of the phrase that I can.
These quotes come from old books or newspapers most of the time and their purpose is to give an idea for how old a saying is.