Mermaids: An Introduction

Mermaids have captured humanity’s imagination since the beginning of our species. These mystical, quasi-fish humanoids known for their enchanting songs, ability to drown naive sailors, and exquisite (or in some cases, terrifying) beauty have sparked thousands of literary works, cinematic ventures, artistic creations, and world-wide debates on the proof of their existence.

Yet while many might recognize these iconic figures in fantasy, few actually realize the history and origins of these beauties, or the scientific speculation that might provide evidence for their being. The history of the mermaid myth spans far and wide, with various nations having assorted stories of different origin. Even in the modern day, each part of the world has a different view of these sea creatures.

First, let it be known that mermaids are an integral part of my character. In other words, I love them a lot. And it is this love, along with my wish to educate the general public (not that the general public reads my blog, but one can dream) about them. Which is why I have begun the “Mermaid-A-Month” series.

Each month, I hope to analyze a different aspect of mermaid mythology—their history, sightings, appearances in literature or art, and so much more.

To start this series, I begin with their etymology. The word “mermaid” comes from old English, with “mer” meaning “sea” and “maid” meaning “girl” or “young woman”. Essentially, “mermaid” just means a woman of the sea, not specifically being half-fish or whatnot. When they actually began to be mistaken for being beautiful women with fish tails will be saved for a later post…

Obviously, the word “mermaid” is not universal. It has many different translations (though you’d be surprised how many languages use the original form as their translation of it). I have given a short list below, taken from this site (obviously since I do not know all these languages, please correct me if you disagree with any of the translations)

Czech: mořská panna
Danish: havfrue
Dutch: zeemeermin
Finnish: merenneito
French: sirène
German: Meerjungfrau
Greek: γοργόνα
Hungarian: sellő
Icelandic: Mermaid
Italian: sirena
Norwegian: havfrue
Polish: syrena
Portuguese: sereia
Romanian: sirenă
Russian: Русалка
Spanish: sirena
Swedish: sjöjungfru
Welsh: môr-forwyn
Yiddish: יאַמ-מיידל
Bengali: মৎসকন্যা
Chinese (both Simplified and Traditional): 美人鱼
Japanese: 人魚
Korean: 인어
Thai: นางเงือก
Vietnamese: mỹ nhân ngư
Filipino: sirena
Indonesian: mermaid
Arabic: حورية البحر
Hebrew: בת ים
Persian: پري دريايي
Afrikaans: meermin
Igbo: mamiwota
Somali: gabareeymaanyo
Swahili: mermaid
Zulu: mermaid

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

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