Crocodile tears

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'Come hither, Little One,' said the Crocodile. 'Why do you ask such things?'

Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child most politely, 'but my father has spanked me, my mother has spanked me, not to mention my tall aunt, the Ostrich, and my tall uncle, the Giraffe, who can kick ever so hard, as well as my broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, and my hairy uncle, the Baboon, and including the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, with the scalesome, flailsome tail, just up the bank, who spanks harder than any of them; and so, if it's quite all the same to you, I don't want to be spanked any more.'

'Come hither, Little One,' said the Crocodile, 'for I am the Crocodile,' and he wept crocodile-tears to show it was quite true.
  The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling, 1902

Crocodile tears is a false or insincere display of emotion such as a hypocrite crying fake tears of grief.

History and usage[edit]

The expression comes from an ancient anecdote that crocodiles weep in order to lure their prey, or that they cry for the victims they are eating. This tale was first spread widely in the stories of the travels of Sir John Mandeville in the 14th century.[1]

In that country and by all Inde be great plenty of cockodrills, that is a manner of a long serpent, as I have said before. And in the night they dwell in the water, and on the day upon the land, in rocks and in caves. And they eat no meat in all the winter, but they lie as in a dream, as do the serpents. These serpents slay men, and they eat them weeping; and when they eat they move the over jaw, and not the nether jaw, and they have no tongue.
  — Sir John Mandeville

An alternate explanation for the expression's origin is that crocodile tears cannot be authentic because crocodiles cannot cry; they lack tear ducts. Yet this is a myth: Crocodiles possess lacrimal glands which secrete a proteinaceous fluid, just like in humans, though tears will only be visible after a crocodile is out of the water for a prolonged period of time, and the eyes begin to dry out. However, while crocodiles can and do generate tears, they do not actually cry.[2]

One prominent use of the expression is by Shakespeare in Othello:

O devil, devil!
If that the earth could teem with woman's tears,
Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.
Out of my sight!
  — Act IV, Scene i

Again, Shakespeare, in an earlier play, Henry VI:

...and Gloucester's show
Beguiles him as the mournful crocodile
With sorrow, snares relenting passengers;
  — part 2, Act III, Scene i

Crocodile tears and spanking[edit]

A spankee may put on a false show of contrition in an attempt to persuade their spanker to give them some leniency in a disciplinary spanking. Partiality in with children this will be displayed as turning on the water works.

This is also related to the parental threat of "Stop crying before I give you something to cry about", particularly when the parent thinks the crying is faked or exaggerated in an attempt of manipulation.

See also[edit]


  1. Curious creatures in zoology by John Ashton (2009) ISBN:9781409231844
  2. Britton, Adam (n.d.). Do crocodiles cry 'crocodile tears'? Crocodilian Biology Database. Retrieved March 13, 2006 from the Crocodile Specialist Group, Crocodile Species List, FAQ.
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