Crocodile tears

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Crocodile tears (or superficial sympathy) are a false, insincere display of emotion such as a hypocrite crying fake tears of grief.

Bogorad's syndrome[edit]

The phrase gives its name to Bogorad's syndrome, colloquially "crocodile tears syndrome", an uncommon consequence of recovery from Bell's palsy where faulty regeneration of the facial nerve causes sufferers to shed tears while eating.[1][2]

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, first told in the Bibliotheca by Photios.[3] The story is repeated in bestiaries such as De bestiis et aliis rebus. This tale was first spread widely in English in the stories of the travels of Sir John Mandeville in the 14th century.[4]

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.

— Curious creatures in zoology

However, while crocodiles can and do generate tears, they do not actually cry.[5]

One prominent use of the expression is by Shakespeare in Othello, Act IV, Scene i

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!
— Othello ,  William Shakespeare's play Othello

Again, Shakespeare, in an earlier play, Henry VI, Part 2, Act III, Scene i

...and Gloucester's show

Beguiles him as the mournful crocodile

With sorrow, snares relenting passengers;
— Queen Margaret ,  William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2

And in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene vii

LEPIDUS: What manner o' thing is your crocodile?

ANTONY: It is shaped, sir, like itself; and it is as broad as it hath breadth: it is just so high as it is, and moves with its own organs: it lives by that which nourisheth it; and the elements once out of it, it transmigrates.

LEPIDUS: What colour is it of?

ANTONY: Of it own colour too.

LEPIDUS: 'Tis a strange serpent.

ANTONY: 'Tis so. And the tears of it are wet.
— William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morais Pérez D, Dalmau Galofre J, Bernat Gili A, Ayerbe Torrero V (1990). "[Crocodile tears syndrome]". Acta Otorrinolaringol Esp (in Spanish; Castilian) 41 (3): 175–7. PMID 2261223. 
  2. ^ McCoy, FJ; Goodman, RC (Jan 1979). "The crocodile tear syndrome.". Plastic and reconstructive surgery 63 (1): 58–62. doi:10.1097/00006534-197901000-00010. PMID 432324. 
  3. ^ PHOTIUS (1977). Bibliothèque. Tome VIII : Codices 257-280. (in French and Ancient Greek). Texte établi et traduit par R. Henry. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. p. 93. ISBN 978-2-251-32227-8. 
  4. ^ John Ashton (2009). Curious creatures in zoology. ISBN 978-1-4092-3184-4. 
  5. ^ 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.

Further reading[edit]

  • D. Malcolm Shaner and Kent A. Vliet, 2007. Crocodile Tears: And thei eten hem wepynge, BioscienceVol. 57, No. 7, Pages 615–617

External links[edit]