- (in folklore) a female marine creature, having the head, torso, and arms of a woman and the tail of a fish.
- a highly skilled female swimmer.
- an imaginary sea creature fabled to have a woman’s head and upper body and a fish’s tail
n.mid-14c., mermayde, literally “maid of the sea,” from Middle English mere “sea, lake” (see mere (n.)) + maid. Old English had equivalent merewif “water-witch” (see wife), meremenn “mermaid, siren.” Tail-less in northern Europe; the fishy form is a medieval influence from classical sirens. A favorite sign of taverns and inns since at least early 15c. (in reference to the inn on Bread Street, Cheapside, London). Mermaid pie (1660s) was “a sucking pig baked whole in a crust.” A legendary marine creature with the head and torso of a woman and the tail of a fish; the masculine, less well-known equivalent is a merman. Though linked to the classical Sirens, mermaids may be nothing more than sailors’ fanciful reports of the playful antics of dugongs or manatees.