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"Curiosity killed the cat" is a metaphor 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".
The original form of the metaphor, now little used, was "Care killed the cat". In this instance, "care" was defined as "worry" or "sorrow."
...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:
|“||What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.||”|
The metaphor remained the same until at least 1898. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer included this definition in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:
|“||Care killed the Cat.|
It is said that "a cat has nine lives," yet care would wear them all out.
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 metaphors: English, Scottish, Irish, American, Shakesperean, and scriptural; and family mottoes, where it is listed as an Irish metaphor on page 34.
In the 1902 edition of Metaphors: 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 metaphor had become widespread by that time:
|“||Curiosity can do more things than kill a cat; and if emotions, well recognized as feminine, are inimical to feline life, then jealousy would soon leave the whole world catless.||”|
The actual phrase appeared as the headline to a story in The Washington Post on 4 March 1916 (page 6):
|“||CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT.||”|
Despite these earlier appearances, the metaphor has been wrongly attributed to Eugene O'Neill, who included the variation, "Curiosity killed a cat!" in his play Diff'rent from 1920:
|“||BENNY—(with a wink) Curiosity killed a cat! Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.||”|
The author Eugene O'Neill has used an extended variation of this idiom: "Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back".
|Look up curiosity killed the cat in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|