Gull

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The noun 'a gull' and the verb 'to gull' form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.. They are pronounced in RP with the vowel of 'under', IPA: /gʌl/.

  • The noun 'a Gull' has several homographs.
    • The commonest current meaning by far is '[one of many species of] a sea-bird', usually largely white; long-winged, noisy and web-footed; eaters of carrion, as well as fish, shell-fish and marine detritus. They are to be seen every day in the skies above ports such as Hull, and on school playing-fields after breaks. A common name for them in the past was mew, sometimes sea-mew. (Pedantic ornithologists dislike them to be called 'seagulls', though this is common in colloquial speech.)
'Seagull' has been used in various military contexts, as type-names for aircraft, code-names for operations, and so on.
    • A set of meanings is etymologically connected with gullet, meaning 'throat' or 'oesophagus' (from Latin gula, 'throat', via French golet or goulet, diminutives of gole, goule (modern French gueule)), or its cognate gully or gulley:
      • the channel cut through an embankment or river-bank by floodwater;
      • a small steep-sided 'valley' in hilly country (this may be the figurative origin of the fielding position in cricket "between point and the slips", OED, 2020);
      • similar 'channels' involved in eruptions or earth movements in geological strata;
        • This gives us a rather obsolete technical verb 'to gull' meaning 'to cut channels in'. Sometimes this is natural, as in river-banks overwhelmed by floods; sometimes it is man-made, such as when a rope may score a groove in the blocks of a sailing ship's rigging, or normal usage may gull the ends of an axle or its bearings. Rain may gull channels for rivulets across cart-tracks, foot-paths etc.
    • In Early Modern English, a common meaning was 'a credulous person', 'someone easily fooled', 'a dupe'; the [potential] victim of a confidence trickster, 'a fall guy', 'a patsy', 'a mark'. This may be derived from
      • an obsolete gull meaning 'fledgling', 'immature bird' - particularly a gosling - which was probably, in turn, derived from the archaic Scandinavian adjective gull meaning 'Yellow' or 'pale'.
  • The verb 'to gull' is linked to the 'victim': to gull someone is to deceive or cheat them, sometimes less seriously to fool them.
        • Gull was also used until the 17th century for the name of a fish, perhaps the freshwater bullhead or the marine coley or coalfish, Pollachius virens.