Idioms 4 Idiots: Curiosity

And the idiom of the week is….. (drumroll please): curiosity killed the cat! This is definitely one of the more popular idioms floating around the past, present and future so in making my column, I knew I had to touch on it. Originally, the phrase appeared as care killed the cat. It was first attributed Ben Johnson who wrote Every Man in His Humor (1598) and was performed by Shakespeare and his troupe. It’s unclear when the phrase transitioned into its modern form, but it is thought to have transitioned sometime in the mid-1800s and became commonly used by the early twentieth century.

When using this idiom, the speaker is attempting to discourage unwanted questioning, exploration and curiosity. The implication is that unnecessary prying or an excessively inquisitive nature can lead to dangerous outcomes. What many don’t know however, is that there is a second, less-common half of the idiom that completes the phrase: … but satisfaction brought it back. The second part implies that sometimes, what might seem as unwarranted investigation, can yield significant rewards. I think the dropping of the second half really illustrates something about our society at large. We get so focused on the first half because it rewards compliance and sticking to the status quo. While in actuality, the idiom in its whole is supposed to encourage questioning everything and not accepting what you hear at face value. I think of the entire phrase as advice that encourages us to go all the way, and see our investigations through to the end if we expect them to pay off. 

For my collage, I took a very loose interpretation of the idiom. The background is from National Geographic’s 125th anniversary issue in 2013, an issue I remember vividly flipping through when it first was published. The pictures from years of photojournalists going all over the world really epitomized what curiosity means to me. The cat is stuck in a loop, jumping from one hole to the other, over and over, in a horrible unending dance with death. In my head, the cat got stuck in this loop after being entranced by the photos and is now trapped by its endless need for discovery. Anyways, I’ll end this post on that cheery note! See y’all in the next one.