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.

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.

  • 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? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 1 '13 at 1:41
  • @Cerberus Agreed, curio appears to be used only for the sense of “bric-a-brac,” which I mentioned in my answer. – Bradd Szonye Oct 1 '13 at 2:03
  • Hmm, upon rereading your first sentence, I guess it is not unreasonable to interpret "specifically" as "only". – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 1 '13 at 2:07
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    Oh I don't know any more, I've stared at it for too long! – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 1 '13 at 2:30
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    'imterchangeable in this context' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 1 '13 at 7:36

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