Sir James Emerson Tennent, speaking of the dugong, a cetacean,
says, “Its head has a rude approach to the human outline, and the
mother while suckling her young holds it to her breast with one
flipper, as a woman holds her infant in her arm. If disturbed she
suddenly dives under water, and tosses up her
fish-like tail. It is this creature which has probably given rise to
the tales about mermaids.”
Mary Queen of Scots (q.v.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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