Curiosity killed the cat

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This article is about the proverb. For other uses, see Curiosity killed the cat (disambiguation).

"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".[1]

The original form of the proverb, now little used, was "Care killed the cat". In this instance, "care" was defined as "worry" or "sorrow."


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:

The proverb remained the same until at least 1898. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer included this definition in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:


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:

The actual phrase appeared as the headline to a story in The Washington Post on 4 March 1916 (page 6):

Despite these earlier appearances, the proverb has been wrongly attributed to Eugene O'Neill, who included the variation, "Curiosity killed a cat!" in his play Diff'rent from 1920:


  1. ^ "Curiosity killed the cat". Gary Martin. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 

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