Monday, October 19, 2009 11:46 AM

Exploding Cat Myths: Curiosity Killed the Cat

Everyone has heard the saying, "Curiosity killed the cat". I wondered where this bit of wisdom came from, so I checked out Wikipedia, always a fun source of information. Apparently, this proverb is a very old one, dating back to 1598 and attributed to British playwright Ben Jonson. Actually, his play Every Man in His Humour used the phrase, " will kill a cat..." where care actually meant "worry". Shakespeare used a similar phrase in his own play, Much Ado About Nothing shortly thereafter. O. Henry altered this further in his 1909 short story, Schools and Schools, making the first reference to "curiosity" rather than "care". Finally, the Washington Post used the headline, "Curiosity Killed the Cat" in 1916, while reporting about a cat who met his death after climbing up and then falling down from, a chimney flue.

Although I 'm not sure why they attributed the cat's climb and fall to curiosity, that adaptation of the phrase has stuck. It has come to mean a warning against harm in following one's curious urges. Why a cat, though? Are cats really more curious than any other animal?

Personally, I don't think they are. Of course, kittens are very curious; but then, all youngsters are. Talk to parents of toddlers, forced to "baby-proof" their home to keep curious fingers from getting into trouble. This curiosity is ingrained, as this is how living things learn about their environment.

This would lead one to think that the most intelligent of animals are the most curious. Not necessarily so! Cows are very nosy, as you will see if you ever hang out on the perimeter of their pasture. Goats and sheep are also curious, almost as much as cows. But none of these stock animals are brain trusts, mostly because of breeding programs instituted by humans. When they come over to see what's up, they're mostly looking for a handout, not a life lesson.

Of course, "cat-proofing" your home is always a good idea. Kittens have been known to drown in open toilets, cats have been poisoned by toxic houseplants and chemicals and died from complications from ingesting things like needles, thread and dental floss. Basically, the same things a human child might get into!

The ultimate safety tip, of course, is to keep kitty indoors. A recent article by Steve Dale in the USA Weekend magazine called Curiosity Really Can Kill strongly advises this, as do I. After all, there's enough to keep track of inside without adding all those outside hazards in, as well!

Just So You Know: My opinion regarding the most inquisitive species? Why, humans, of course!
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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