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I've recently heard the term curio when talking about a strange or foreign object, whereas previously I would have used the term curiosity in that context.

Is the use of the use of curio a more correct term when speaking about an object, compared to curiosity which is a better term for a behaviour, or can they be used interchangebly in the context of talking about an object?

For example, contrast:

  • I brought this curio back from the orient, but I'm not sure what it does.
  • I brought this curiosity back from the orient, but I'm not sure what it does.
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Curio is a shortened form of curiosity that specifically refers to the “bric-a-brac” sense of the latter word. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it dates from 1851. The two appear to be interchangeable in that sense, although the abbreviated form is more common in my experience, especially when referring to a curio cabinet. In that context, curio overtook curiosity over 100 years ago.

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  • I'm sure curio is far more frequent than curiosity for an object. For the attitude or behaviour, I would say curio is impossible, don't you agree? Oct 1, 2013 at 1:41
  • @Cerberus Agreed, curio appears to be used only for the sense of “bric-a-brac,” which I mentioned in my answer. Oct 1, 2013 at 2:03
  • Hmm, upon rereading your first sentence, I guess it is not unreasonable to interpret "specifically" as "only". Oct 1, 2013 at 2:07
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    Oh I don't know any more, I've stared at it for too long! Oct 1, 2013 at 2:30
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    'imterchangeable in this context' Oct 1, 2013 at 7:36

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