Why do we say “crying crocodile tears”?

Friends (or foes) who express phony sadness to gain sympathy are said “crocodile tears.” The expression is an old one, based on the myth that alligators and crocodiles cry when they devour their victims. Crocodiles do indeed cry when they eat, but scientists are stumped by the cause. Some researchers suspect that the hissing noises crocodiles make while eating unclogs their sinuses and turns on the waterworks. Saltwater crocodiles, meanwhile, cry to purge excess salt.

So then, while the crocodile eats, any drops of water that result from it “crying” would be ones of insincerity; its tears would not be from genuine sadness. So a comparison is drawn—when someone is displaying feelings of sorrow that are thought to be insincere, or if they are fake crying about something, then their tears are like that of a crocodile. Hence, they are said to be shedding ‘crocodile tears.’


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