Crocodile Tears: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
January 7, 2024

"Crocodile tears" is commonly used to describe a display of false, insincere, or exaggerated sadness. The expression implies that the person showing sadness is pretending or not truly upset.

In short:

  • It refers to fake or insincere expressions of sorrow.
  • It is often used when someone's emotions are thought to be exaggerated or not genuine.

What Does "Crocodile Tears" Mean?

The phrase "crocodile tears" describes a situation where someone's sadness or distress is exaggerated or not genuine. It's like saying someone is pretending to be much sadder than they are. For example, if someone cries over a minor problem just to get sympathy, you might say they're shedding "crocodile tears." This phrase suggests skepticism about the authenticity of someone's emotional expression.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It's often used to express doubt about the sincerity of someone's emotions.
  • Used in situations where emotional reactions are seen as overdone or performed for show.
  • It can be applied to both public figures and personal acquaintances.
  • Often associated with manipulation or seeking attention.
  • Similar phrases include "putting on an act" and "faking it."

Where Does "Crocodile Tears" Come From?

The origin of "crocodile tears" dates back to an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey. This belief was mentioned in various texts over the centuries, including by the English naturalist Sir John Mandeville and later by William Shakespeare in his works. It has since evolved into a metaphor for insincere displays of emotion.

Historical Example

"God is weeping over you when you refuse to put confidence in him. Are his tears not genuine? Are his tears crocodile tears? Are they a lie? I entreat of you no longer to blaspheme against the Holy One, and say that there is a single human being whom he does not wish to save." 

- Sermons and Lectures, Volume 2 by J. M. Campbell, 1832

10 Examples of "Crocodile Tears" in Sentences

To help you understand how to use this phrase, let's look at some examples from different situations:

  • When caught breaking the rules, the child's crocodile tears didn't convince his parents.
  • What's with those crocodile tears? You seem to be having a blast at the event last night.
  • The politician's crocodile tears during the speech didn't fool the audience.
  • He couldn’t bear to see her crocodile tears every time he tried to break up with
  • Linda dodged a bullet by not falling for his crocodile tears.
  • The athlete's crocodile tears at the press conference seemed insincere to the reporters.
  • For the love of Pete, stop with the crocodile tears; we know you're not really upset about missing the meeting.
  • In the courtroom, the defendant's crocodile tears did not sway the jury's decision.
  • When her friend forgot her birthday, her crocodile tears were more about getting attention than actually being upset.
  • During the argument, her crocodile tears were a clear tactic to avoid the real issue.

Examples of "Crocodile Tears" in Pop Culture

This phrase often appears in pop culture, typically to depict characters who are insincere or manipulative.

Let's look at some examples:

  • VOA Learning English published an article titled "Don't Believe Those 'Crocodile Tears.'" The piece explores the story behind the phrase, discussing how crocodiles were believed to cry tears as a false show of guilt or grief to trick their prey.
  • Mercedes Rosende's novel Crocodile Tears opens in a Montevideo prison where the protagonist, Diego, awaits his lawyer, Antinucci. The story unfolds in a gripping narrative, showcasing Rosende's skill in crafting a suspenseful tale.
  • R. Raj Rao's Crocodile Tears: New & Selected Stories is a collection that forces readers to rethink the idea of love in India and the surrounding politics. The book contains sixteen startling stories, many dealing with complex themes and emotions.
  • Anthony Horowitz's Crocodile Tears, part of the Alex Rider Series, is a captivating story about the character Alex Rider. Horowitz's talent for writing amazing stories is evident in this engaging book.

Synonyms: Other Ways to Say "Crocodile Tears"

Here are some alternative phrases with similar meanings:

  • False sorrow
  • Pretend sadness
  • Fake crying
  • Insincere tears
  • Disingenuous weeping
  • Sham emotion
  • Feigned distress
  • Mock grief
  • Artificial sorrow
  • Pseudo-sadness

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Crocodile Tears":

  • What does "crocodile tears" mean?

"Crocodile tears" refers to a display of false, insincere, or exaggerated sadness. It implies that the person showing sadness is pretending or not truly upset.

  • How can I use "crocodile tears" in a sentence?

You can use it to describe someone's insincere sadness. For example: "When she lost the game, her crocodile tears didn't fool anyone."

  • Is "crocodile tears" used in a positive or negative context?

It is used in a negative context, typically to criticize or express skepticism about someone's sincerity.

  • Can "crocodile tears" be genuine?

No, by definition, "crocodile tears" are not genuine. They represent insincere or fake emotions.

  • Why are they called "crocodile" tears?

The term originates from an ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey, which was a false impression of sorrow.

  • Are "crocodile tears" a form of manipulation?

Yes, they can be a form of emotional manipulation, where a person fakes sadness to manipulate others.

  • Is it a common phrase in English?

Yes, "crocodile tears" is a common idiom in English, used to describe insincere displays of emotion.

  • Can children display "crocodile tears"?

Yes, children can display "crocodile tears," often to avoid punishment or to get what they want.

  • How do I identify "crocodile tears"?

Identifying "crocodile tears" involves observing the context and consistency of the emotional display, looking for signs of insincerity.

  • Is there a psychological reason behind "crocodile tears"?

Psychologically, "crocodile tears" may be linked to a desire for attention, sympathy, or to manipulate a situation to one's advantage.

Final Thoughts About "Crocodile Tears"

The phrase "crocodile tears" is a practical expression in the English language to describe insincere or exaggerated displays of emotion. It's commonly used to express skepticism about someone's sadness or grief.

To recap:

  • It is an idiom for describing fake or insincere sadness.
  • It's typically used in a negative context to criticize or question someone's emotional sincerity.
  • Understanding this phrase can help in identifying and responding to emotional manipulation.
  • It has roots in ancient beliefs and remains a relevant expression in modern language.

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