The proverbial dead cat

The 10/10 Piccolo / Price Rhymes With Orange cartoon is delightful, but incomprehensible if you don’t know the proverb whose standard form is now Curiosity killed the cat:

(#1) If you see that the proverb is the key to understanding the cartoon, you’ll be able to appreciate the pun on curiosity — with one sense given explicitly in the cartoon (in curiosity shop), the other available only implicitly, through the proverb and the reference to killing in the cartoon

The two senses, from NOAD:

noun curiosity: 1 a strong desire to know or learn something: filled with curiosity, she peered through the window | curiosity got the better of me, so I called him. 2 a strange or unusual object or fact: he showed them some of the curiosities of the house.

Sense 2 gives us curiosity shop, a store (like the one in the cartoon) that offers curiosities for sale; and cabinet of curiosities, a collection of curiosities for display. And from sense 2 we get the noun curio for the sorts of thing (visible in the cartoon) on sale at a curiosity shop:

noun curio: a rare, unusual, or intriguing object: they had such fun over the wonderful box of curios that Jack had sent from India. ORIGIN mid 19th century: abbreviation of curiosity. (NOAD)

The proverb. A proverb is a fixed form of words, usually framed as an observation of general truth (as its literal meaning), but deployed in discourse to convey some piece of advice. About the cat-killing proverb, from Wikipedia:

“Curiosity killed the cat” is a proverb used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. It also implies that being curious can sometimes lead to danger or misfortune. The original form of the proverb, now little used, was “Care killed the cat”. In this instance, “care” was defined as “worry” or “sorrow for others.”

The earliest printed reference to the original proverb appears in the 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour, written by the English playwright Ben Jonson

… The origin of the modern variation is unknown. [Wikipedia has curiosity cites from 1868, 1873, and later]

Collections of curiosities. From my 8/9/16 posting “The old curiosity shelf”:

I’ve … unearthed, or brought out of dark corners, assorted bits of artwork, silly stuff, personal treasures of Jacques’s and mine, and the like — and I now have some shelves and surfaces in visible spots where they can be displayed. My cabinets of curiosities, my old curiosity shelves, my shelves of wonder:

(#2) Two shelves (from a set of five) in the main room of my Ramona St. house (photo by Kim Darnell)

Cabinets of curiosities (also known as Kunstkabinett, Kunstkammer, Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, and wonder-rooms) were encyclopedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were, in Renaissance Europe, yet to be defined. Modern terminology would categorize the objects included as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art (including cabinet paintings), and antiquities. “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction.” [Francesco Fiorani in Renaissance Quarterly] (Wikipedia link)

New items are added regularly, both in the public areas of my little condo and in the X-rated bedroom (where phallic images and curios rule).

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