The Cure for Boredom Is Curiosity. There Is No Cure for Curiosity

Dorothy Parker? Ellen Parr? Anonymous?

rover09Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement about curiosity has been attributed to the well-known wit Dorothy Parker and someone named Ellen Parr:

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this quotation known to QI appeared in “Reader’s Digest” in December 1980 in a column called “Quotable Quotes” where the words were ascribed to Parr. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
—Ellen Parr

Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and there is no substantive evidence that she employed this saying. The two names “Parr” and “Parker” are alphabetically very close, and QI conjectures that a mistake led to the reassignment of the saying from Parr to Parker based on a known mechanism for misattribution. A more extensive explanation is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The saying can be decomposed into two phrases, and the second phrase: “There is no cure for curiosity” has been in circulation for more than one hundred years. In 1915 an instance was printed in the “Boston Sunday Post” of Massachusetts: 2

There is no cure for curiosity. It must be outgrown or endured. A child is born with its mouth in position to utter the word “Why?” and when, at some later date, it is punished for asking too many questions, it thinks up enough additional questions during its punishment to make the Encyclopedia Britannica look sick.

The assignment of the quotation to Dorothy Parker may have seemed plausible to some readers because she has used the word “curiosity” in some of her better known poems and quips. For example, in 1926 she published a poem titled “Inventory” in the periodical “Life” 3 which also appeared in her collection “Enough Rope” and featured the following two lines: 4

Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

In 1966 a gossip columnist stated that when the topic of euthanasia for a cat was discussed Parker quipped “Have you tried curiosity?” This remark was explored in a Quote Investigator article available here.

In December 1980 the “Reader’s Digest” printed the quotation under examination with an ascription to Ellen Parr as mentioned previously.

In March 1981 the “Centre Daily Times” of State College, Pennsylvania attributed the words to Parr: 5

FORTUNATELY: The cure for boredom is curiosity. Ellen Parr wrote, adding: There is no cure for curiosity.

In 1984 the saying continued to circulate, and a newspaper in Sitka, Alaska used it as the solution to a cryptogram puzzle: 6

Answer for 2413, The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. Ellen Parr

In March 1996 a collection of quotations was shared on a mailing list called “Humor List”. The format employed was compact, and the quotations were listed in alphabetical order based on the last name of the ascription. A saying about checks attributed to Parker was immediately adjacent to the quotation about curiosity from Parr. The following excerpt shows six of the items. An inattentive person scanning the list might link Parker to the contiguous curiosity quotation. QI hypothesizes that an error of this type explains the genesis of the misattribution. The precise linefeed format of the message is preserved below: 7

#The right man, in the right place, at the right time –
can steal millions. –Gregory Nunn
#The man who has not anything to boast of but
his illustrious ancestors is like a potato –
the only good belonging to him is underground.
–Sir Thomas Overbury
#The two most beautiful words in the English language are:
‘Cheque enclosed.’ —Dorothy Parker
#The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
–Ellen Parr
#Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is
tyrannical. –Blaise Pascal
#Never tell people ‘how’ to do things. Tell them ‘what’ to do
and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
–General George S. Patton

By April 1997 the saying had been reassigned to Parker within a message posted to the hfx.general newsgroup of the Usenet discussion system: 8

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
– Dorothy Parker

In June 2001 a message posted to the newsgroup alt.quotations expressed confusion about the provenance of the quotation: 9

Dolores <tt…@capital.net> wrote
> “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
> –Ellen Parr

I just found this same quote attributed to Dorothy Parker at
http://www.memorablequotations.com/parker.htm

Does anyone know which attribution is correct, Dorothy Parker or Ellen Parr?
—Dolores

In 2002 an article in a Syracuse, New York newspaper about the graduating students of LaFayette high school included a remark by the salutatorian crediting the quotation to Parker: 10

My advice to my graduating class: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Dorothy Parker. Forget regret and don’t be afraid to take risks.

In 2004 a newspaper in Evansville, Indiana printed the saying as a “Thought for the Day” ascribed to Parker. 11

In conclusion, based on current evidence this statement should be credited to Ellen Parr although QI has not located any biographical details for Parr. The ascription to Dorothy Parker appeared many years after her death and was probably the result of an error caused by the misreading of contiguous quotations.

Image Notes: Artist’s concept depicting the rover Curiosity of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory; accessed via nasa.gov. Picture of Dorothy Parker via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe and Laura Mihaela whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Grothe is the author of several clever and entertaining quotation books such as “Oxymoronica” and “Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You”. His website is located here.)

Update History: On September 26, 2016 the 1926 “Life” magazine citation was added.

Notes:

  1. 1980 December, Reader’s Digest, Volume 117, Quotable Quotes, Quote Page 172, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1915 August 1, 1915, Boston Sunday Post, Curiosity, Quote Page 30, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1926 November 11, Life, Volume 88, Poem: Inventory by Dorothy Parker Quote Page 12, Published at Life Office, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)
  4. 1926, Enough Rope: Poems by Dorothy Parker, Poem Title: Inventory, Quote Page 53, Horace Liveright, New York. (Verified in hard copy in 1926 edition, 24th printing in Jan. 1933)
  5. 1981 March 12, Centre Daily Times, Good Evening! Times Goes Under, (Filler item), Quote Page 1, Column 6, State College, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1984 July 9, Sitka Daily Sentinel, Kryptograms From Katlian, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Sitka, Alaska. (NewspaperArchive)
  7. Website: UGA Humor List Archives, Article title: “Digest for Monday, March 11, 1996”, Message Date: March 12, 1996, Message Author: Piotr Plebaniak, Message Subject: Quotes part 37/88, Website description: Archive website for mailing group called The HUMOR LIST which “was created around April 1993 to provide an uncensored and diverse source of humor for a seminar on the ‘Communication of Humor’ lead by Bill Edwards of Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia”, (Accessed archive.thehumorlist.us on November 1, 2015) link
  8. 1997 April 30, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: hfx.general, From: Heather Breeze @chebucto.ns.ca, Subject: Point Pleasant Nature Walk, May 4, (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 1, 2015) link
  9. 2001 June 23, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroups: alt.quotations, From: Dolores @capital.net, Subject: Which is correct? [was Re: Boring quotes] (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 1, 2015) link
  10. 2002 June 4, The Post-Standard, Series: Graduation 2002, Section: Special Section, Article: Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School, (Article about graduating students), Quote Page E5, Syracuse, New York. (NewspaperArchive)
  11. 2004 June 5, Evansville Courier & Press, Section: Spectrum, Column: Getaway Saturday, Author/Byline: Rebecca Coudret (Courier & Press staff writer) Quote Page B9, Evansville, Indiana. (NewsBank Access World News)