(See also PRETENSE.)
carry fire in one hand and water in the other To be duplicitous, to engage in double-dealing; to be two-faced, to speak with forked tongue. The expression comes from Plautus; it continues “to bear a stone in one hand, a piece of bread in the other.” Thus, the expression indicates that a person is prepared to act in totally contradictory ways to achieve his purposes.
crocodile tears Pretended or insincere tears, hypocritical weeping, false sorrow. Legend has it that a crocodile sheds tears and moans in order to lure passers-by into its clutches, and then, still weeping, devours them. A person who feigns deep sorrow in order to impress others or gain their sympathy is thus said to cry crocodile tears. This expression, in use since 1563, is found in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, (Part II): Gloucester’s show
Beguiles him, as the mournful crocodile
With sorrow snares relenting passengers. (III, i)
give pap with a hatchet To do or say a kind thing in an unkind way; to administer punishment under the guise of an act of kindness or generosity. This expression derives from the title of an anonymous pamphlet published in 1589 and attributed to John Lyly. The image of an infant being fed with a hatchet gives the phrase its obvious ironic tone. The recipient experiences more harm than good, thus undercutting any illusion of good intentions and suggesting the possibility of duplicity at play.
He that so old seeks for a nurse so young, shall have pap with a hatchet for his comfort! (Alexander Niccoles, A Discourse of Marriage and Wiving, 1615)
This expression usually indicates a disparity between reality and appearances, intentions, or expectations.
mote in the eye See IMPERFECTION.
odor of sanctity See VIRTUOUSNESS.
strain at a gnat and swallow a camel To make a great commotion about an insignificant matter while accepting grave faults and injustices without a murmur; to complain vociferously about minor transgressions while committing deplorable offenses. This expression originated in Christ’s castigation of the hypocritical Pharisees:
Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you … for ye make clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. (Matthew 23:24-25)
In this expression, gnat alludes to semething small and insignificant, while camel refers to something large or bulky which is difficult to “swallow” or accept.
Can we believe that your government strains in good earnest at the petty gnats of schism, when it makes nothing to swallow the Camel heresy of Rome. (John Milton, Church Government, 1641)
talk out of both sides of one’s mouth To espouse conflicting, contradictory points of view; to be inconsistent and hypocritical. This expression can be said of one who is two-faced or wishy-washy and afraid to take a stand.
Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.