What does the idiom "crocodile tears" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does crocodile tears mean? In what situations is crocodile tears used?

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

Idioms with similar meaning

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.


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