In folklore, a mermaid is an aquatic creature with the head and upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, Africa and Asia. The first stories appeared in ancient Assyria, in which the goddess Atargatis transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Mermaids are sometimes associated with perilous events such as floods, storms, shipwrecks and drownings. In other folk traditions (or sometimes within the same tradition), they can be benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans.
The male equivalent of the mermaid is the merman, also a familiar figure in folklore and heraldry. Although traditions about and sightings of mermen are less common than those of mermaids, they are generally assumed to co-exist with their female counterparts.
Some of the attributes of mermaids may have been influenced by the Sirens of Greek mythology. Historical accounts of mermaids, such as those reported by Christopher Columbus during his exploration of the Caribbean, may have been inspired by manatees and similar aquatic mammals. While there is no evidence that mermaids exist outside folklore, reports of mermaid sightings continue to the present day, including 21st century examples from Israel and Zimbabwe.
Mermaids have been a popular subject of art and literature in recent centuries, such as in Hans Christian Andersen’s well-known fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” (1836). They have subsequently been depicted in operas, paintings, books, films and comics.
One of a group of nymphs who lured mariners to their death on the rocks.
One who sings sweetly and charms.
A dangerously seductive woman.
A member of an order of mammals of Sirenia (first attested in French in Dominique Bouhours, Les entretiens d’Ariste et d’Eugène, 1671).
A member of a genus of aquatic salamanders of the family Sirenidae (originally introduced by Linnaeus, 1766, for a genus of his reptiles), commonly used for all species subsumed under the family of Sirenidae.
A device, either mechanical or electronic, that makes a piercingly loud sound as an alarm or signal, or the sound from such a device (first recorded 1879).
A musical instrument, one of the few aerophones in the percussion section of the symphony orchestra (patented as Acme Siren in 1895).
To make a noise with, or as if with, a siren.
Relating to or like a siren.
A mythological creature with a woman’s head and upper body, and a tail of a fish.
Coloured a brilliant turquoise.