To express sorrow in a way that is not genuine; insincere.
Example: After Tom’s wife burned dinner, he shed a few crocodile tears for the wasted food. He was in the mood for takeout anyways.
In other words, Tom only pretended to be upset about dinner burning. He didn’t really care.
The Origin of ‘Crocodile Tears’
It was once considered a myth that crocodiles “wept” while they ate. But now there have been studies done that indicate these reptiles do actually shed tears while feeding.
Does this mean 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’
- I assume you’ve heard the news that your mother-in-law is moving to another country. That’s really far! You don’t have to pretend to be sad about this; those crocodile tears aren’t fooling anyone. I know you didn’t like her one bit.
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.
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