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  1. Are cats truly 'the noisiest of all creatures and curious too'?

  2. Even if they are, I don't think that sorrow or worry can kill them. Did Jonson and Shakespeare think so? If not, why write this? 'care' doesn't rhyme with 'cat'.

'Curiosity killed the cat' - meaning and origin.

Everyone knows that, despite its supposed nine lives, curiosity killed the cat. Well, not quite. The 'killed the cat' proverb originated as 'care killed the cat'. By 'care' the coiner of the expression meant 'worry/sorrow' rather than our more usual contemporary 'look after/provide for' meaning.

That form of the expression is first recorded in the English playwright Ben Jonson's play Every Man in His Humour, 1598:

"Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care'll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman."

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The play was one of the Tudor humours comedies, in which each major character is assigned a particular 'humour' or trait. The play is thought to have been performed in 1598 by The Lord Chamberlain's Men, a troupe of actors including William Shakespeare and William Kempe. Shakespeare was no slouch when it came to appropriating a memorable line and it crops up the following year in Much Ado About Nothing:

"What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care."

The proverbial expression 'curiosity killed the cat', which is usually used when attempting to stop someone asking unwanted questions, is much more recent. The earlier form was still in use in 1898, when it was defined in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

"Care killed the Cat. It is said that a cat has nine lives, but care would wear them all out."

Curiosity Killed the Cat - Meaning, Origin and Usage

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.

  • I was intrigued by the use of 'noisiest' and wonder if it was a typo on that author's part for 'nosiest'. – Spagirl Jan 13 at 10:51
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    In what way is the question "Are cats truly 'the noisiest of all creatures and curious too'?" relevant to a site about literature? – IkWeetHetOokNiet Jan 13 at 21:37