When is a gull not a seagull?

Twitter was once more a lexicological battleground today, as people responded to a post from Lord Alan Sugar referencing an obscure comment made by Eric Cantona in the 1990s.

Lord Sugar, currently tweeting pictures from his yacht as he tours Europe, posted: ‘As Eric Cantona would say the Seagulls follow the trawler’ above a picture of some birds gathering behind a boat, apparently apropos of nothing.

Online bird and pedantry fans were quick to react, with one raising the old debate of whether ‘seagull’ is the correct term for the seabirds known for remorselessly stealing people’s chips up and down the UK.

Twitter user @TheManWivTheHat had this to say:

“GULLS mr Sugar. No such thing as ‘sea’ gulls. Common mistake by the common person.”

What is the deal with Eric Cantona and seagulls?

The quote Lord Sugar is referring to was made at a press conference in 1995 by footballer Eric Cantona, who had just been sentenced to 120 hours of community service for assaulting a spectator:

“When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

At the time, no one could make much sense of what he said, but it was thought to be an analogy of how he was being treated by the press and the public.

Which is correct, ‘gull’ or ‘seagull’?

So this brings us to the big question: gull or seagull?

According to the RSPB, while there are many different species of gull, there is no one species called the ‘seagull’. So when people are talking about a white and grey bird that just nabbed off with their sandwich, it was probably a gull.

Basically, if you want to be scientific about it, use ‘gull’, or the name of the myriad gull species you find at the British seaside, which include the herring gull (silver plumage), the lesser black-backed gull (black plumage) or the black-headed gull (which looks how you would expect).

‘Seagull’ is simply a colloquial term for the group of seabirds from the Laridae family or ‘gulls’. Therefore it’s not incorrect to say seagull, it’s just a more informal, collective name for all the species above.

If you say it whilst pointing at a squawking bird dive-bombing a litter bin, chances are the rest of us will know what you’re talking about anyway.

As for Lord Sugar? Predictably, he had the last word.

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