The Real Meaning of the Phrase ‘Curate’s Egg’

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle examines the origins of an oft-misused phrase

‘Good in parts.’ ‘A mixed bag.’ This is what people generally mean when they use the phrase ‘curate’s egg’ to describe something. For instance, in book reviews: ‘A real curate’s egg, this. Parts of it are really good, such as the plot and pacing. However, the characterisation leaves a lot to be desired.’

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The Interesting Meaning and History of the Phrase ‘Curiosity Killed the Cat’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Curiosity killed the cat’ is a well-known phrase that is found repeatedly in English (and Anglophone) literature. The meaning of ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is easy to summarise: don’t go poking your nose into other people’s affairs, and don’t be overly inquisitive about things which don’t concern you, as it will only cause trouble.

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A Short Analysis of W. W. Jacobs’ ‘The Monkey’s Paw’

On Tuesday, we summarised ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, W. W. Jacobs’ popular and widely anthologised short horror story about a mummified paw which has the power to grant three wishes to three men. Now, it’s time to offer some words of analysis and commentary on this intriguing and brilliantly constructed tale.

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A Short Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’

On Tuesday, we put together a brief plot summary of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, Edgar Allan Poe’s short but terrifying story about a prince who retreats to his castellated abbey with a thousand of his courtiers, to avoid the horrific and fast-acting plague known as the ‘Red Death’. You can read Poe’s story here. Now, it’s time for some words of analysis concerning this intriguing story which, like many of Poe’s best stories, seems to work on several levels.

First, there is the literary precedent for the basis of Poe’s story: the Italian writer Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century work The Decameron is about a group of noblemen and noblewomen who retreat to an abbey to flee the plague, or Black Death. All that’s changed in Poe’s basic setup is the colour of the plague, to the fictional ‘Red Death’. Interestingly,

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A Short Analysis of the Christmas Carol ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’

‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ is one of the most famous Christmas songs in the English language, and unlike many Christmas carols we know who wrote this one: a Poet Laureate, no less. So next time you’re singing ‘while shepherds watched their flocks by night’ (or, depending on company, washed their socks by night), you can bask in the knowledge that you’re taking in a bit of literature.

But what were the origins of this favourite Christmas carol? ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ deserves closer analysis…

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

‘Fear not!’ said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

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