A mermaid (from the Middle
English mere in the obsolete sense 'sea' (as in maritime, the Latin mare, "sea")
maid(en)) is a legendary aquatic creature with the head and torso of human
female and the tail of a fish. The male version of a mermaid is called a merman;
gender-neutral plurals could be merpeople or merfolk. Various cultures
throughout the world have similar figures.
Much like sirens, mermaids in stories would sometimes sing to sailors and
enchant them, distracting them from their work and causing them to walk off the
deck or cause shipwrecks. Other stories would have them squeeze the life out of
drowning men while trying to rescue them. They are also said to take them down
to their underwater kingdoms. In Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid it
is said that they forget that humans cannot breathe underwater, while others say
they drown men out of spite.