Crocodiles (subfamily Crocodylinae) or true crocodiles are large aquatic reptiles that live throughout the tropics in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australia. Crocodylinae, all of whose members are considered true crocodiles, is classified as a biological subfamily. A broader sense of the term crocodile, Crocodylidae that includes Tomistoma, is not used in this article. The term crocodile here applies to only the species within the subfamily of Crocodylinae. The term is sometimes used even more loosely to include all extant members of the orderCrocodilia, which includes the alligators and caimans (family Alligatoridae), the gharial and false gharial (family Gavialidae), and all other living and fossil Crocodylomorpha.
Although they appear similar, crocodiles, alligators and the gharial belong to separate biological families. The gharial, with its narrow snout, is easier to distinguish, while morphological differences are more difficult to spot in crocodiles and alligators. The most obvious external differences are visible in the head, with crocodiles having narrower and longer heads, with a more V-shaped than a U-shaped snout compared to alligators and caimans. Another obvious trait is that the upper and lower jaws of the crocodiles are the same width, and the teeth in the lower jaw fall along the edge or outside the upper jaw when the mouth is closed; therefore, all teeth are visible, unlike an alligator, which possesses in the upper jaw small depressions into which the lower teeth fit. Also, when the crocodile's mouth is closed, the large fourth tooth in the lower jaw fits into a constriction in the upper jaw. For hard-to-distinguish specimens, the protruding tooth is the most reliable feature to define the species' family. Crocodiles have more webbing on the toes of the hind feet and can better tolerate saltwater due to specialized salt glands for filtering out salt, which are present, but non-functioning, in alligators. Another trait that separates crocodiles from other crocodilians is their much higher levels of aggression.
The word "crocodile" comes from the Ancient Greek κροκόδιλος (crocodilos), "lizard", used in the phrase ho krokódilos tou potamoú, "the lizard of the (Nile) river". There are several variant Greek forms of the word attested, including the later form κροκόδειλος (crocodeilos) found cited in many English reference works. In the Koine Greek of Roman times, crocodilos and crocodeilos would have been pronounced identically, and either or both may be the source of the Latinized form crocodīlus used by the ancient Romans. Crocodilos or crocodeilos is a compound of krokè ("pebbles"), and drilos/dreilos ("worm"), although drilos is only attested as a colloquial term for "penis". It is ascribed to Herodotus, and supposedly describes the basking habits of the Egyptian crocodile.
The form crocodrillus is attested in Medieval Latin. It is not clear whether this is a medieval corruption or derives from alternative Greco-Latin forms (late Greek corcodrillos and corcodrillion are attested). A (further) corrupted form cocodrille is found in Old French and was borrowed into Middle English as cocodril(le). The Modern English form crocodile was adapted directly from the Classical Latin crocodīlus in the 16th century, replacing the earlier form. The use of -y- in the scientific name Crocodylus (and forms derived from it) is a corruption introduced by Laurenti (1768).