where does the saying curiosity killed the cat come from

Fun fact — that wasn’t the original phrase. The original phrase was just “curiosity killed the cat” — originating from a play by Ben Johnson in 1598 and a play by William Shakespeare in 1599, though the phrase itself was first used in that form by 1868 in a newspaper in Ireland.

“…but satisfaction brought it back” edit

“But satisfaction brought it back” is the rejoinder that comes after a variant of the idiom.

It’s more likely, though, that the phrase referred to the actions of the cat rather than the actions of humans upon it. George Wither describes the proverbial cat hunting mice in his 1635 book A Collection of Emblems, Ancient and Modern, writing, “he cannot be content to slaughter them / but hee must also playe / and Sport his woefull prisoners’ lives away.”

Furthermore, it is evident that the killing of the cat is seen as something to be avoided in both Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s usage of the phrase “care killed the cat” (or “care will kill a cat”).

However, this isn’t clear from the saying “care killed the cat,” and four centuries later, it’s impossible to know with certainty what the phrase was meant to mean. Cats were despised during the Middle Ages and Early Modern era, in part due to their connections to witchcraft and black magic (black cats in particular), but they were undoubtedly useful for getting rid of rodents and other vermin from homes.

As is common in Shakespeare’s plays of the era, “care” in these two cases refers to “worry” or “sorrow” (see, for example, King Henry IV’s opening lines, “So shaken as we are, so wan with care”). Thus, the meaning in this instance is obviously different: the cat’s death was caused by worry or sorrow rather than its meddling nose. Naturally, it’s possible that the cat’s human owner is to blame for the problems rather than the cat itself; in other words, worrying excessively can make you hurt other people.

Therefore, if “care” is defined as giving in to worry and wallowing in a situation rather than acting quickly and decisively, then the thing that might “kill” the cat is not killing its prey while it has the opportunity. And then, maybe, dying from starvation (because its dinner escaped) or from being ejected by its owner because it was not good at mousing?

Origin edit

The English playwright Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, which debuted in 1598, has the earliest known printed mention of the original proverb:[1]

The proverb remained the same until at least 1898. This definition was found in Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:


What is the origin of Curiosity killed the cat?

Origin. The earliest printed reference to the original proverb appears in the 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour, written by the English playwright Ben Jonson: Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care ‘ll kill a cat, up-tails all, and a louse for the hangman.

What is the whole saying for Curiosity killed the cat?

“Curiosity killed the cat” is only part of the expression. The whole idiom goes like this: “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” That last part really changes the meaning. The cat gets to live.

Did curiosity kill the cat but ignorance did?

Science fiction author C. J. Cherryh famously said, “ignorance killed the cat; curiosity was framed!” Her statement could not be more accurate. A lack of awareness can mean we begin to accept things as they are and can quickly become stuck in our ways of working and doing business.

What does Curiosity killed the cat but brought it back to life?

“Curiosity killed the cat”, with the full version being “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back,” is a very common proverb. It suggests that being too curious or inquisitive is dangerous. If one reaches too far into matters that don’t concern them, they may find themselves in danger.