What’s the meaning of the phrase “crocodile tears”? It means that someone is expressing sorrow in a way that is not genuine; someone who is being insincere.
Example: After Tom’s wife burned dinner, he shed a few crocodile tears for the wasted food. Really though, he didn’t care that it was burned because he wanted to order takeout anyways.
In other words, Tom only pretended to be upset about dinner burning.
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 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. The reason for why they shed tears while eating is believed to be due to some biological reason (and why they do it during that time does not appear to be fully understood).
So then, while a crocodile eats, any drops of water that result from it “crying” would be ones of insincerity; its tears would not be from genuine sadness. Thus a comparison is drawn—when someone is displaying feelings of sorrow 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’s a reference to these reptiles “weeping” while eating that goes back to the 14th century. In a book called The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (the author of it is unclear), in around the year 1375 (roughly), there is a part from the book concerning crocodiles that reads:
“These serpents slay men, and they eat them weeping.”
When did this idiom start to be used figuratively? The earliest the phrase appears in writing (as far as I can tell) with the meaning of ‘insincerity’ being implied, 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 summer break arrived, some of the kids in my class looked upset. They must have been crying crocodile tears, because who doesn’t enjoy taking a break from school?
- Some relatives told my wife that her mother-in-law was moving across country soon. Now, I know my wife has never gotten along with my mother-in-law, so even though she’s pretending to be sad about the news, those crocodile tears aren’t fooling me.
Did You Know?
Depending on the type of crocodile, they 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.
Tip: If you want to find more common phrases and sayings like this one, use the menu at the top.