What does the idiom "crocodile tears" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase crocodile tears, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression crocodile tears used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "crocodile tears"


The phrase “crocodile tears” is an idiom used to describe a false display of grief or sadness. It is derived from a legend about the crocodile, a reptile that lives in rivers and swamps. In this old story, a crocodile would shed tears to lure its prey closer in order to consume it. This false display of sorrow is what the idiom “crocodile tears” is referring to.


The original phrase “crocodile tears” originated in the 16th century. It was first used by the English playwright Thomas Nash in his play “Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Divell” in 1592. Nash wrote, “The crocodile will weep when she hath ate the prey.” The phrase was then popularized by William Shakespeare in his play “As You Like It.” After this, the phrase spread throughout Europe and eventually entered into common usage.


The phrase “crocodile tears” is used to describe a false display of grief or sorrow. It implies that the person weeping is not feeling sincere sorrow, but instead is using the tears as a tool or weapon in some way. This could mean that the person is trying to get sympathy from someone else or gain an advantage in some way.

Example Sentences

  • He was trying to guilt trip his father, so I knew he was just shedding crocodile tears.
  • The politician's speech was full of crocodile tears. He was just trying to gain the public's sympathy.

The meanings of the words in the "crocodile tears" idiom

From One Language to Another: Idioms in Translation

Translating idioms from one language to another can be a tricky task, as the cultural context behind an idiom can be difficult to capture. For example, the French phrase "avoir le cafard" translates to "to have the cockroach," which means to feel down or depressed. Similarly, the Chinese idiom "????" (j?ng d? zh? w?) translates to "frog at the bottom of a well," which refers to someone with a narrow view of the world.


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