Crocodile Tears


What’s the meaning of the phrase “crocodile tears“? It means that someone is expressing sorrow in a way that is not genuine. In other words, it’s someone who is being insincere.

Example: After he accidentally burned dinner, Tom cried a few crocodile tears and then immediately pulled out his phone and ordered takeout. As you can see, he only pretended to be upset over what happened; he was in the mood for fast food anyway.

Synonyms: 1. fake tears, 2. going through the motions, 3. pretend

Crying crocodile tears, sad animals.
Why the long face, crocodile?

The Origin of ‘Crocodile Tears’

It was once considered a myth that crocodiles ‘wept’ as they ate, but now there have been studies indicating that ‘crocodile tears‘ are a real thing. Yes, these large reptiles actually shed tears while they feed. But why? Is it because these animals are feeling emotions like remorse and grief as they chomp down on their prey? No, that’s not believed to be the case. From what I’ve read, the real reason for why they shed tears while eating is not fully understood.

So then, while they eat, any tears the crocodile produces would be ones of insincerity; the ‘crying’ would not be from genuine sadness. Thus a comparison is made—when someone is displaying feelings of sadness that are thought to be insincere, or if they are fake crying about something, then their tears are like that of a crocodile. Hence they are said to be shedding ‘crocodile tears.’

There is a reference to these ‘weeping’ reptiles that goes back to the 14th century. It’s in a book called The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (the author is unclear), around the year 1375, and there is a part from it that reads:

“These serpents slay men, and they eat them weeping.”

Okay, but when did this phrase start to be used as an idiom? The earliest it appears in print in the form of an expression (as far as I know) with the meaning of ‘insincerity’ is from a work by John Strype called Life and Acts of Edmund Grindal, 1710:

“I begin to fear, lest his humility in words be a counterfeit humility, and his tears, crocodile tears.”

Example Sentences For ‘Crocodile Tears’

  • When our TV in the living room stopped working, I shed crocodile tears, but honestly, I’ve been wanting to get a new TV for a while now.
  • My wife’s mother-in-law will be moving across the country soon. The two of them rarely get along, so when she heard the news and acted upset, her crocodile tears weren’t fooling me.

Did You Know?

Certain crocodiles can live up to 70 – 100 years. They can be pretty big too. The saltwater crocodile, for example, are the largest of the reptiles. They can grow to be 17 ft. long and weigh around 2,000 lbs.

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