Where does the expression “crocodile tears” come from and What does it mean?

It is proverbial that a crocodile moans and sobs like a person in great distress in order to lure a man into its reach, and then, after devouring him sheds bitter tears over the dire fate of its victim.

Thus “crocodile tears” is synonymous with hypocritical grief, make-believe deep sorrow.

Belief in the proverb is found in ancient Greek and Latin literature, so it was natural that untraveled Englishmen, to whom a crocodile was unknown, accepted the belief as a statement of fact in early days.

In the Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundeville, written about 1400, we read that “Cokadrilles. . . Theise Serpentes slen men, and thei eten hem wepynge.”

Other English writers repeated the fable, and we find it even in Shakespeare’s works.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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