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; someone who is being insincere.

Example: After Tom’s wife burned dinner, she was upset so he cried crocodile tears with her for the wasted food. Really though, he didn’t mind that dinner was ruined because he wanted to order takeout anyway.

In other words, Tom only pretended to be upset about what happened.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Smoke and mirrors
2. Going through the motions
Crying crocodile tears, sad animals.
Why the long face? Cheer up, 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. The reason for why they shed tears while eating is believed to be due to some biological reason, but why they do it during that time does not appear to be fully understood.

So then, while crocodiles eat, 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 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’s 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 the book 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 that it appears in print as such (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 broke, I shed a few crocodile tears, but honestly, I’ve been wanting to get a new TV for a while now.
  • My wife’s mother-in-law was moving across the country soon. The two of them rarely get along, so when she heard the news and acted upset, I knew she wasn’t being sincere. Those crocodile tears weren’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.

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