Where did the term “crocodile tears” come from?
“Crocodile tears” is a term used to describe the behavior of people who feign remorse in order to arouse our empathy. Generally, such people do not regret their actions at all, but are afraid of the consequences, i.e. public scorn, loss of job, privileges, criminal consequences, etc. However, how did people connect these false behaviors with predatory reptiles?
Some scholars believe that the comparison of hypocrisy to crocodile tears appeared as early as the beginning of our era. The philosopher Plutarch is supposed to have so described the behavior of people who desire someone’s death, or even directly cause it, but later publicly despair over the victim’s fate.
The term crocodile tears was not to become popular until the 14th century. It was first used in the book “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” This book is a supposed diary of a trip around the world, in which the narrator describes his many travels and adventures. In one of them, the author writes about crocodiles crying while tearing people apart. These memoirs were very popular and translated into many languages. Shakespeare in the drama “Othello” also writes about crocodile tears, comparing them to the tears of an unfaithful wife. Today this expression is almost universally used in most languages. However, where did the comparison come from?
Well, crocodiles cry, but their crying has nothing to do with emotions. Crocodile tears are secreted when the reptile arrives too long out of water and the body tries to rehydrate the conjunctiva. Another reason for crocodile tears is the consumption of a meal. When the crocodile’s jaws work, the tear ducts are stimulated and hence the impression that the crocodile is crying over its food.
It is worth mentioning that there is a disease called Bogorad syndrome (also called crocodile tear syndrome). Those suffering from it cry profusely while eating. As in the case of crocodiles, this is caused by abnormal stimulation of ducts. This disease is caused by damage to the facial nerve.