Tag: idioms

Starting over with a “clean slate”

Clean Slate history as a nautical termart by Tacita Dea 

A clean slate. It’s something we’re all talking about this first week of January. It’s a fresh start. A blank page. A new calendar year. It’s a way to start over on goals we may have fallen short of in the past. It’s a new beginning to old habits we want to change or new ones we want to create.

But a “clean slate” didn’t always mean to start anew. So what does “a clean slate” mean? Or, more accurately, where did the whole “clean slate” phrase come from?

Well, according to my highly scientific internet research, two sources (1 & 2) confirm that our whole “clean slate” obsession stems from an old nautical task. The watch keeper of the ship would record speeds, distances and more on a slate during his (or her?) watch. If there were no problems, the slate would be wiped clean at the end of his watch. Then, the new watch would “start over with a clean slate.”

Now, I don’t plan on climbing aboard any ships any time soon, but I like a clean slate as much as the next sailor.

“Curiosity Killed The Cat” Gets Me Every Time

“Curiosity killed the cat” is a phrase that almost got too close to home recently. See, Louise the Cat had a little visitor on the porch. (Check out the video for the details.) But thankfully the glass door was shut and it all ended in just some growling and hissing.

So, again, words being my thing, it got me thinking about that what the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” exactly means. Or more, where did it come from and when did it come into popularity. The internet hunt was on!

According to official internet source Wikipedia, it was first penned as “care will kill a cat” in a play from 1598, Every Man in his Humour, by Ben Jonson. From there, Shakespeare used a similar phrase in Much Ado, “What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”

And this early iteration of “curiosity killed the cat” was finally documented in the Brewer’s dictionary of Fable and Phrase in 1898:

Care killed the Cat.
It is said that “a cat has nine lives,” yet care would wear them all out.

But when did the modern phrase get brought into our lives? Well, no one can be quite sure, but according to written history, it seems as though it was first recorded in 1873 by James Allan Mair in A handbook of proverbs: English, Scottish, Irish, American, Shakesperean, and scriptural; and family mottoesOn page 34, the letter “I” after the phrase “Curiousity killed the cat. I.” implies that the phrase came from Ireland.

No matter where the phrase came from, to me it means to keep your curiosity under control, lest it get you in more trouble than you can handle. However, a little curiosity is a good thing, and as one retort to this popular phrase says, knowing might just make the cat, or you, OK…

Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back.