Crocodile tears?

中国日报网 2018-06-29 11:32



Reader question:

Please explain “crocodile tears” in this sentence: They weep crocodile tears for the poor and disadvantaged but are basically happy with things as they are.

My comments:

Here, “they” can be anyone who gets emotional talking about the poor but is actually happy with the status quo, i.e. will do nothing to change the system – or to actually help the poor by, for example, creating and finding jobs for them.

In other words, their tears are insincere, just for show.

That’s why they’re called “crocodile tears”.

Since ancient times, people have noticed that crocodiles shed tears while feeding and have therefore wondered why these cold-blooded beasts are so remorseful and sorry for their victims.

Well, those tears are not remorseful or sorrowful. They are just there to moisten their eyes – or insofar as science has found out. As for exactly why they are shed while crocodiles are feasting on a prey, it is perhaps just another odd fact of animal life.

At any rate, when humans shed tears that are considered insincere, those tears of emotion are called crocodile tears. For example, a middle-aged prince may wale about the demise of the king in public and shed a lot of tears for everyone to see, some of those tears are those of a crocodile because in secret, this particular heir to the thrown has long been pining for his father’s death for years.

In literature, the metaphorical crocodile tears first appeared in print, according to The Phrase Finder (, in 1563:

All of the very early citations refer directly to the myth of crocodiles weeping. It isn’t until the 16th century that we find ‘crocodile tears’ used with our current figurative meaning - that is, one where no crocodiles are present. Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of York and of Canterbury was the first to use the phrase with the implication of insincerity, in 1563, (re-published in Strype’s Life of Grindal, 1711):

“I begin to fear, lest his humility ... be a counterfeit humility, and his tears crocodile tears.”

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) made use of “crocodile tears” quite a few times. This, from Wikipedia:

Shakespeare regularly refers to the concept. He uses both of Topsell’s versions of the motive, as a trick and as fake repentance. A prominent example is in Othello, Act IV, Scene i, in which Othello convinces himself that his wife is cheating on him.

If that the earth could teem with woman’s tears, Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.

He also refers to the version about tricking prey in Henry VI, Part 2, Act III, Scene i, in which a character refers to the faked emotions of the Duke of Gloucester:

“Gloucester’s show / Beguiles him, as the mournful crocodile / With sorrow, snares relenting passengers.”

In Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene vii, Mark Antony chides Lepidus, who has asked him what crocodiles are like, with a meaningless description ending with the words “And the tears of it are wet”.

Here are a few present-day examples of crocodile tears in the media:

1. THEY are the guilty who are caught in the spotlight – partners or relatives of crime victims who weep crocodile tears at police press conferences while all the time THEY are the ones the cops are hunting.

That was the case with Mick and Mairead Philpott, who cried for the cameras even though they had killed their six children themselves.

Here ANTONELLA LAZZERI profiles other tearful fakers who turned out to be hiding the darkest of secrets.

Karen Matthews

WHEN nine-year-old Shannon Matthews vanished on her way home from a swimming pool on February 19, 2008, her mum Karen made a plaintive appeal.

Wiping away tears, she said: “Shannon, we love you so, so much. Please come home.”

Relatives and friends mounted a huge campaign to find the missing girl but police were suspicious from the start. They kept close tabs on Matthews, who spent most of her time away from the cameras partying with friends.

The difference in her behaviour on and off camera even made one of her best friends suspicious and she eventually confronted Matthews in a police car, saying she believed she knew where her daughter was.

Matthews broke down and admitted the kidnap was a sham, aimed at securing a £50,000 reward for the girl’s return. On March 14 she was found hidden in the base of a bed at the nearby home of Paul Donovan, uncle of Matthews’s boyfriend, in Dewsbury, West Yorks.

In November 2008 both were tried and convicted of kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice. Both were jailed for eight years.

Gordon Wardell

GORDON WARDELL pleaded for help in finding the killers of his wife Carol, a building society manager murdered in September 1994.

Wardell, of Meriden, West Mids, claimed a gang had captured her. A month later he was arrested and in December 1995 he was jailed for life, with a minimum of 18 years.

John Tanner

JOHN TANNER told reporters of his desperation when his girlfriend, Oxford student Rachel McLean, 19, vanished in April 1991.

But cops were amazed at his ice-cool calm and found her body under floorboards at her home, where he had hidden it.

At his 1991 trial Tanner, 22, admitted murder and was jailed for life.

- After the Philpotts’ shameless crocodile tears, here are other monsters caught crying their lies out,, April 4, 2013.

2. While Amanda Knox gave her first live TV interview, the family of Meredith Kercher, the woman Knox is accused of murdering, also spoke out, expressing deep anger about Knox’s just-published book.

“We are not interested in this book, and we will not read it,” the Kerchers said in a statement. “Meredith is the victim in this tragic case.”

On Good Morning America, Knox replied, “I still hope they’ll read my book because in it I talk about Meredeth. I talk about the relationship I had with her, and that is the little amount that I could give to her.”

Reaction to Knox’s interviews, which began airing Tuesday night in a special with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, is pouring in from around the world.

When Sawyer asked, “Did you kill Meredith Kercher?”, Knox replied, “No.”

In Italy, where the killing took place, there was some condemnation. According to La Repubblica, someone said, “Knox certainly knows how to be cool and how to take advantage of it. In America she would have been sentenced to death.”

In England, where Meredith Kercher grew up, viewers criticized Knox’s demeanor. According to The Daily Mail, someone said, “Whether guilty or not, she comes across as selfish and unfeeling. Her look just says to me ‘Something is not quite right.’”

Here in America, reaction on Twitter was mixed.

“I believe she didn’t do it,” one user wrote. “Read the book, listen to her story.”

“How Italian police handled this case makes me sick. The incompetence...Sexism, & other factors are staggering,” another user weighed in.

We asked body language expert T.J. Walker to analyze Knox’s interview—which included an acknowledgement that she had lots of “casual sex” before her arrest in Italy.

“It was irresponsible. A child going about a very adult thing,” she said in the interview.

Walker said, “Looking down, once twice, three times within a couple of seconds. That could be that she’s not being honest, or it could be that she’s embarrassed. This is embarrassing stuff.”

Some believe Knox’s tears were crocodile tears when she said, “I was tired of them having to sacrifice everything for me.”

“She comes across very genuine here. She either is legitimately sharing her feelings, or she’s the world’s greatest actress,” Walker said.

- Viewers Weigh In on Amanda Knox’s TV Interview,, May 1, 2013.

3. Sportsmail pundit Martin Keown has slammed Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil for crying ‘crocodile tears’ following the Europa League semi-final defeat by Atletico Madrid on Thursday night.

Ozil was targeted after Arsenal lost 2-1 on aggregate following the second leg at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.

A number of Arsenal’s players were pictured looking emotional when the full-time whistle was blown and Keown chose to focus on Ozil.

He said: ‘(Arsene) Wenger has invested an awful lot of money in this player and I’m not seeing a performance to go with it. He wasn’t fit to wear the shirt for me tonight and I’ve seen this a lot.

‘I’ve seen this a lot this season and it needs to be said because he needs to be dug out, because we expect better from him, he’s a World Cup winner and these are crocodile tears I’m seeing from the player, he’s not conning me.

‘Listen, I’ve had my say on it and I feel that he’s not giving enough for Arsenal Football Club and maybe Wenger should come out and say a little bit more about some of these players that should have performed for him, and he hasn’t.’

- Martin Keown slams Mesut Ozil for his ‘crocodile tears’ as he says the Arsenal midfielder isn’t ‘conning me’ after poor display against Atletico Madrid,, May 4, 2018.


About the author:

Crocodile tears?

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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