Saturday, April 15, 2017
The Origins of Common Expressions, No 21: Crocodile Tears
Meaning: a display of superficial or false sorrow
Origin: The expression is derived from a medieval belief that crocodiles shed tears of sadness while they killed and consumed their prey. The myth dates back as far as the 14th century and comes from a book called The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Wildly popular upon its release, the book recounts a brave knight’s adventures during his supposed travels through Asia. Among its many fabrications, the book includes a description of crocodiles that notes, “These serpents sley men, and eate them weeping, and they have no tongue.” While factually inaccurate, Mandeville’s account of weeping reptiles later found its way into the works of William Shakespeare, and “crocodile tears” became an idiom as early as the 16th century.