Curiosity Killed the Cat

Origin of Curiosity Killed the Cat

The origin of this phrase is traced back as far as 1598, to Ben Johnson, who used it in his comedy, Every Man in His Humor. Later, various other authors modified the phrase, and used in their works. For example, John Hendricks Bechtel used it in his book “Proverbs: Maxims and Phrases.” Johnson used it in Act-I, Scene-IV of his play, Every Man in His Humour, where a character, Cob speaks it at the end of the act thus: “Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman.” Here, this expression is used to convince someone to refrain from asking unnecessary questions, and exploring unsolicited details.

Meaning of Curiosity Killed the Cat

Inquisitiveness or curiosity can lead people into dangerous or risky situations. If people take too much interest in things they need not know, they could get into trouble. They might be causing themselves problems by getting into things not concerning them. Simply, this phrase highlights the curious side of cats, which is no surprise to any owner of pets. It is because cats are generally very curious creatures that stick their noses in where they don’t belong, and their curiosity could lead them into danger, sometimes taking their lives.

Usage of Curiosity Killed the Cat

This phrase is widely applied in different areas of life. It is used when a person discourages a nosy or prying person from asking too many questions he or she need not know the answers to. In such cases, that person may not be killed, if he or she does not pay attention. Another example is an individual warning his friend against doing something – which could be physically dangerous – for the sake of curiosity, such as when he wishes to explore and do skydiving without having any experience.

Literary Source of Curiosity Killed the Cat

Ben Johnson has used these lines in his popular play, Every Man in His Humour. Cob, a character in this play, uses it by saying that;

“I would I had it. I shall ha’it, he says the next action. Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman.”  (Act-I, Scene-IV, Lines, 77-79)

Simply, these lines say that, if you are too inquisitive, and poke your nose into things that do not concern you, you may face serious consequences.

Literary Analysis of Curiosity Killed the Cat

This phrase has layers of meanings. Its obvious use is to compare curious persons to curious cats. In fact, cats are the noisiest of all creatures and curious too. Just like cats, these lines tell a general resentment towards unnecessary curiosity. It serves as a warning that following an unnecessary curiosity or investigating could be dangerous.

Like cats being curious creatures, people who are curious, have a tendency to get into unpleasant situations. For instance, someone exploring a dangerous situation and getting into difficulty, may be considered stupid for attempting to satisfy his/her curiosity, and deserving whatever ill fate that he has stumbled upon.

Literary Devices

  • Proverb: A proverb warning of being inquisitive could lead to harmful results
  • Tone: Didactic
  • Alliteration: A consonant sound “k” has been repeated in the phrase to make it melodious.