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The phrase “curiosity killed the cat” is an English language idiom that is not meant to be taken literally. The meaning of this phrase serves as a warning that acting upon curiosity can be dangerous. It is thought to be derived from the fact that cats are naturally curious creatures that have a tendency to wander off and get into dangerous or unpleasant situations. Occasionally, the person who has been warned with this phrase answers with the reply, “satisfaction brought it back,” meaning that even if acting upon curiosity leads to a dangerous situation, the satisfaction of finding out the answer and relieving the curiosity is worth the risk.
Different situations in which this idiom might be used slightly change the interpretation of why acting upon curiosity might be dangerous. In some cases, an individual might be warning a friend against doing something that might be physically harmful for the sake of satisfying curiosity. For example, someone who wants to find out what skydiving is like or someone who wants to explore an abandoned building after dark might be warned that curiosity killed the cat.
The phrase “curiosity killed the cat” can also be used in less literal terms. For example, an individual could use this phrase to discourage a prying or nosy person from asking too many questions that he or she might not want to know the answers to. In this case, the person might not actually be killed if he or she does not heed the warning, but instead might be subjected to embarrassment or other emotional discomfort.
This idiom illustrates a belief that curiosity and inquisitiveness are bad traits, and that quiet individuals who do not try to pry every detail out of a person or situation possess more desirable qualities. In most societies, it is more acceptable for an individual to “mind his own business” rather than ask nosy questions out of curiosity. Likewise, if someone were to explore a possibly dangerous situation and get into trouble, he or she might be considered “stupid” for trying to satisfy the curiosity, or worse, deserving of the fate that he or she has stumbled upon. Sometimes, a teacher, parent, or other caregiver might tell a child that curiosity killed the cat as a means of frightening the child and discouraging him from exploring or wandering off and possibly becoming injured.