Slavic, Hungarian, (Austrian) German: curiosity - premature senescence

Encolpius

Senior Member
Hungarian
Hello, Czechs as well as Hungarians use a funny idiom saying that if someone is (too) curious he will become old too soon. It seems Russians use it as well, so the origin could be Slavic.
Which Slavic languages use that idiom? Thank you.
 
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  • sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    If it is a Slavic idiom then Austrian German too has loaned it (German: "Neugierige Leute sterben bald" - or dialect "Neigirige Leit sterbn boid" = "curious people die young"; quite common in Austria but probably (?) not so common in Germany). If not, it might be the other way round - loan to Slavic/Hungarian through (Austrian/Habsburg?) German.

    I'm moving this over to EHL to attract other opinions, with leaving a permanent trace in Slavic. :)
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    For what it's worth, I have never heard this in Polish, we usually say: jak jesteś ciekwy, to wsadź nos do kawy (literally: if you're curious, put your nose into coffee), but the meaning is different from the one of the idiom in question -- we say that to someone who's too nosey and want them to keep their own business.

    A somewhat similar expression goes: ciekawość to pierwszy stopień do piekła -- curiosity is the first step towards hell [literally], my PWN-Oxford Polish-English dictionary translates it as: curiosity killed the cat.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    If it doesn't exist in Polish then this might indicate that it is probably not a genuine Slavic idiom but probably one coined in the Habsburg monarchy - but it could also be a genuine German idiom as it is also used in Germany (in my experience - if, probably, not as frequently as in Austria).

    I tried again to find some online resources but with no luck; by the way, "neugierig" in Austrian German is a loan from Northern German, it isn't native Austrian (see Grimm online) - but it is a very old loan.
    Usually Grimm is a very good source for sayings like that but he don't mentions this one - therefore we can provisionally (!) claim that the German idiom "neugierige Leute sterben bald" either didn't exist at around 1850 or was restricted to regions not known very well by Grimm (which might have included Austria - I wouldn't know ;-).

    So if anybody can find the same idiom in Czech or Hungarian in documents much older than 1850 this could indicate that it is not German in origin but probably rather Czech or Hungarian (and rather not Common Slavic).
    Even then, however, we also should take into account that it could have been coined possibly by Austrian bureaucracy (thus by an ethnically mixed group who used mainly Austrian German, Hungarian and Latin as official languages, but also Slavic languages on a local level).

    Oh, and a PS:
    Erbe Englands Dabei seit: 22.12.2008 Herkunft: Schau doch einfach auf die Karte Erfahrung in: .... Wir in Bayern sagen immer: Neugierige Leute sterben bald! ...
    www.totalwar-zone.de/forum/thread.php?postid=472825

    The relevant line (in red) says: "We Bavarians use to say >Curious people die young<".
    This might indicate that the saying originated in the Bavarian/Austrian dialect group, but again, no evidence at all - people say all kind of nonsense on the world wide web.
    I can only confirm that the saying is used in Austrian dialects too (extensively so), but this of course is no proof either way too.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    A small veering-off note: it seems to me that the expressions in question may be similar in meaning:
    Ciekawość to pierwszy stopień do piekła.
    Kto je zvedavý, bude skoro starý.
    "Neugierige Leute sterben bald"
    Curiosity killed the cat.

    I understand them to mean that curiosity, understood as a bad quality: nosiness, unbridled inquisitiveness, is supposed to lead to severe consequences. If that’s the case then they might be different variants of saying the same. To be confirmed…
     

    rusita preciosa

    Modus forendi
    Russian (Moscow)
    Yep, there is a Russian saying много будешь знать - скоро состаришься [mnogo budesh znat - skoro sostarishsia] if you know too much you'll be old soon.
    It is used very often (favorite of my Grandma):). It does have a rather negative meaning (nosiness), rather than healthy desire to know.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Thomas1 - indeed the Polish and English idiom are somewhat close to this Czech/Hungarian/German one - but they're still definitely different.
    I can't be sure if a common source for all of them is likely but offhand I'd say rather no, the origins should be different.

    The Russian saying mentioned by rusita preciosa on the other hand is definitely closer to the CZ/HU/DE one - still different as it is only about growing old and not quite dying, but there's only a short route from growing old to dying.

    I must say I'm quite uncomfortable already with all this guesswork (much of it being provided by me, sorry ...); nothing substantial has been found yet, by anybody - so even a possible link between RUS and CZ/HU/DE should be considered hypothetically only.
     

    rusita preciosa

    Modus forendi
    Russian (Moscow)
    I wonder if something like if you know too much you'll be old too soon exists in French? Russian borrowed and translated many French idioms in 1700s-early 1800s (well, before 1812 when French became less fashionable:)).
    I know la curiosité est un vilain défaut and la curiosité tua le chat, but may be the natives can provide more insight?
     

    Mauricet

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Le seul proverbe vraiment français est La curiosité est un vilain défaut. L'autre (La curiosité tua/a tué le chat) est traduit de l'anglais Curiosity killed the cat. Il n'y a pas, à ma connaissance, d'équivalent à If you know too much you'll be old too soon.

    The only genuinely French saying is La curiosité est un vilain défaut. The other one (La curiosité tua/a tué le chat) is translated from English Curiosity killed the cat. As far as I know, there is nothing like If you know too much you'll be old too soon in French.
     
    In Greek we say (probably an anglicism) «Η περιέργεια σκότωσε τη γάτα» (i perierɣia skotose ti ɣata), "curiosity killed the cat".
    We do have a genuine Greek saying too. When someone shows above the natural levels inquisitive behaviour we say:
    «Η περιέργεια θα σε φάει» (i perierɣia θa se fai), "curiosity will eat you up". Interestingly enough, in Greek, curiosity is characterised as a consuming (literally) passion. When I'm eager or have the overwhelming desire to know about something, I'll say «με τρώει η περιέργεια» (me troi i perierɣia), "I'm eaten up by [my] curiosity"
     

    Malti

    Member
    Devonlish
    (I'm not sure how relevant this is, but it seems to be on roughly the same track) when I was growing up if people looked older than they actually were it could be slightly rudely attributed to them having "asked too many questions". Like, instead of saying "She's only 26?! Oh, the years have not been kind." people would say "She's only 26?! She must have been asking a lot of questions.". I haven't heard it in ages though, and I don't remember it ever being said by anyone under about 70.
     

    Encolpius

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    (I'm not sure how relevant this is, but it seems to be on roughly the same track) when I was growing up if people looked older than they actually were it could be slightly rudely attributed to them having "asked too many questions". Like, instead of saying "She's only 26?! Oh, the years have not been kind." people would say "She's only 26?! She must have been asking a lot of questions.". I haven't heard it in ages though, and I don't remember it ever being said by anyone under about 70.

    Thanks Malti, I think it is very relevant.
     
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