Crocodile Tears

Meaning of Idiom Crocodile Tears

Crocodile tears is an insincere or hypocritical display of grief or remorse; pretending to be upset or sorrowful.

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Examples of Use

“Her courtroom performance was convincing to the jury, especially the crocodile tears over her husband’s death, but the evidence that followed was unassailable.”

“I’ve had enough of your crocodile tears,” said Tom. “I know you don’t really care about our father.”

“Nobody believes your crocodile tears over Peter’s leaving. We know you’ve wanted his job for years.”

Crocodile tears idiom meaning



This idiom is based on early observations by explorers and writings which claimed that crocodiles would weep over men as they ate them. This image of a savage killer who would shed tears over his victim gave rise to this idiomatic idea of false and hypocritical grief.

An early writing on the natural sciences by a French monk, from the 13th century, elaborates:

“If the crocodile findeth a man by the brim of the water or by the cliff, he slayeth him there if he may, and then weepeth upon him and swalloweth him at last.”

Explorer Sir John Mandeville, who wrote of many fantastical things in Mandeville’s Travels during the 1300s, wrote:

“In many places of Inde are many crocodiles – that is a manner of a long serpent. These serpents slay men and eat them weeping.”

Another writer, Edward Topsell, known for writing bestiaries, wrote in his History of Serpents:

“There are not many brute beasts that can weep, but such is the nature of the crocodile that, to get a man within his danger, he will sob, sigh, and weep as though he were in extremity, but suddenly he destroyeth him. Others say the crocodile weepeth after he hath devoured a man.”

Edward Topsell also wrote of unicorns. But, even Shakespeare wrote of the “mournful crocodile.” These stories were widely believed until the 1500s.

Certainly, these tears couldn’t be a real sign of grief, so crocodile tears became a symbol of insincerity or an attempt to garner pity or sympathy.

In reality, while crocodiles do produce what seem like tears when they are out of the water, this is simply meant to keep their eyes from drying out and to keep them clean.

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