What Does Curiosity Killed the Cat Mean?

Curiosity Killed the Cat Meaning

Definition: Sometimes learning new information is more harmful than helpful; being inquisitive about other people’s affairs can get you in trouble.

If someone wants to try and stop another person from prying, he or she will often use this proverb.

Origin of Curiosity Killed the Cat

This expression most likely developed from the older expression care killed the cat. This form was different in that care was being used to mean worry.

curiousity killed the catThe older expression meant that it does no good to worry. Care killed the cat first appeared in written form in plays performed by the British playwright William Shakespeare in the years 1598 and 1599.

It did not change to curiosity killed the cat until the late 1800s and did not grow popular until the 1900s.

Examples of Curiosity Killed the Cat

curious killed the catHere, a young girl and her grandmother use the idiom while on a walk.

Grandmother: Come back here! I can’t see you!

Granddaughter: I’m coming, but I don’t know why you have to see me. I was just curious to see what was over there.

Grandmother: Well, curiosity killed the cat.

Granddaughter: How would curiosity kill a cat?

Grandmother: It’s just an expression that means sometimes when you are curious to learn something new, you put yourself in danger and get hurt. If I can’t see you, maybe someone will kidnap you!

Granddaughter: There’s no one here to kidnap me.

Grandmother: No one that you know of, you mean.

The second dialogue shows the proverb used by a daughter and her father.

Father: Are you done studying for your history test yet?

Daughter: I haven’t started. Actually, I’m not going to study.

Father: And why not?

Daughter: Curiosity killed the cat! I don’t want to endanger myself by learning too much.

Father: That does not apply here at all! Start studying now or you won’t be allowed to use your phone for a month.

More Examples

This proverb is not frequently used in news publications. However, a woman under the influence of drugs said this expression to try to get officials to stop questioning her, as seen in the below excerpt.

  • When an official with the Department of Family Protective Services visited her in jail and asked the strung-out woman whether she remembered putting the girl in the oven, she responded with “curiosity killed the cat” and “ask me questions and I will lie to you.” –New York Daily News

This excerpt from a book review actually talks about the proverb and its origin.

  • There are also mistakes. Mr. Forsyth insists that the saying “Curiosity killed the cat” was first recorded in 1921, although it’s in James Allan Mair’s “Handbook of Metaphors” (1873). –Wall Street Journal

Summary

The phrase curiosity killed the cat is a proverb that serves as a warning that new knowledge can come with unexpected costs and danger.