Posted by: juliegriffey | November 13, 2011

What are crocodile tears? And do crocodiles really have tears anyway?

Bath time at our house is usually about the only time my husband and I share a meal in peace. We feed the kids, throw all three of them in the bath and then we eat.  There is just one problem: there is a time limit for how long they will stay happy in the bath together. Without fail, every nightly bath ends with one of them in tears. When this happens, frequently one of us will go running upstairs, only to find the tears were simply a cry for attention.

“Those are crocodile tears,” I remarked the other night, while pulling my five-year-old out of the tub, my mouth full of couscous.

“What’s that?”

“It’s when you’re fake crying,” I explained. This sent her into a whole line of questioning.

“Why’s it called that? Do crocodiles cry? Do they just cry when they are happy?  Have you ever seen a crocodile cry? Can we go to the zoo?”

(See why we throw them in the bath before we eat?)

Anyway – for the benefit of all you readers who have little inquisitive kids, I’ve actually found the answer.  Crocodiles actually do shed tears.  But they do it to get salt water out of their eyes – not because they are feeling sad – or because they want their parents to get them out of the bathtub.   This is why crocodile tears are fake tears.

However what you may not know is that the term has a different meaning to ophthalmologists.  They use  the term “crocodile tears” to refer to an actual condition.  Patients can get an injury to the eye where the nerves that cause salivation get re-routed to the lacrimal gland.  The result is that a patient starts crying at the sight of food.  Why they call these tears “crocodile tears” is beyond me…. I’m definitely not telling my five-year-old about that – I can already hear the questions…

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