Northern Ireland election: A bunch of auld crocs

The question of coming back for more

Arlene Foster suggested this week that her reluctance to indulge Sinn Féin demands on the Irish language was simply based on the common sense notion that "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more". In doing so the DUP leader plumbed a rich vein of crocodile/alligator-based rhetoric most of whose logic appears to support her thesis. Not least, of course, Bertie Ahern's one-time insistence that he, like her, would "answer the allegators".

"An appeaser," Winston Churchill observed, "is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." And Ronald Reagan added that "To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will." Helen Gurley Brown took a simple view, clearly shared by Foster: "Feed the alligators and you get bigger alligators."

(In a similar vein, Reagan had advice that observers of Donald Trump and his cabinet of billionaires might do well to note: "It's hard, when you're up to your armpits in alligators, to remember you came here to drain the swamp….".)

The patent insincerity of Sinn Féin’s dismissive response to Foster might also bring to mind the idea of “crocodile tears”, derived from an ancient myth that crocodiles, overcome with remorse, shed tears while consuming their prey. The 16th century English cleric and naturalist Edward Topsell wrote of the strange phenomenon that “there are not many brute beasts that can weep, but such is the nature of the crocodile that, to get a man within his danger, he will sob, sigh, and weep as though he were in extremity, but suddenly he destroyeth him.” As a description of Sinn Féin though, surely not …


"Crocodiles are easy," crocodile hunter Steve Irwin once argued. "They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first." And for those who aren't sure how you tell a croc' from a 'gator – order Crocodilia, all alligators are crocodiles, but not all crocodiles are alligators – like Sinn Féin, you can tell a croc' apart by the toothiness of his smile.