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Common Gull - origin of name

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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 14:46   #1
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Common Gull - origin of name

Something I was wondering the other day was how did the Common Gull get its name? Although far from rare, compared to other gulls like the Black-headed and Herring they are not what I would call common either (at least in my corner of the country). Was there a time in the past decades/centuries when they were significantly more common than now?
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 15:28   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoggler View Post
Something I was wondering the other day was how did the Common Gull get its name? Although far from rare, compared to other gulls like the Black-headed and Herring they are not what I would call common either (at least in my corner of the country). Was there a time in the past decades/centuries when they were significantly more common than now?
What I've always heard is that "Common Gull" was so named because, unlike most other British gulls, it was "common" inland as well as near the sea. Dto for "Common Sandpiper". Interestingly enough, even the Common Gull's latin name --Larus canus--stresses the ordinariness of this species, since canus means "gray" & Common Gulls are no more or less gray than most of the other gulls in their range.
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 15:31   #3
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It's also said that 'common' refers to common land i.e. Common Gull was the gull of the common, which seems quite apt to me.
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 15:31   #4
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It's to do with them occurring inland on 'common' pasture land (as in the Wombles of Wimbledon Common etc).

Fair question, has been discussed on here before.
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 16:02   #5
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Andrew is spot on, it was named Common after its habit of nesting on common land, usually the poor, damp grazing land in a district which the pheasant farmers were forced to graze their livestock on. So it was 'the gull of the common'.
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 16:37   #6
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Originally Posted by Steve Dudley View Post
Andrew is spot on, it was named Common after its habit of nesting on common land, usually the poor, damp grazing land in a district which the pheasant farmers were forced to graze their livestock on. So it was 'the gull of the common'.
Do you have a reference for this opinion by any chance, or is it just something you've read somewhere? I just did a (very) quick google but didn't come up with anything.

Folk etymology has many pitfalls!
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 16:45   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fugl View Post
Do you have a reference for this opinion by any chance, or is it just something you've read somewhere? I just did a (very) quick google but didn't come up with anything.

Folk etymology has many pitfalls!
I also heard this origin quoted many times, can't say whether its myth or truth though
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 16:46   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fugl View Post
Do you have a reference for this opinion by any chance, or is it just something you've read somewhere? I just did a (very) quick google but didn't come up with anything.

Folk etymology has many pitfalls!
common land- how intriguing: never knew that

a quick google suggests reference here:

Okill, Dave (2004) English names for Western Palearctic birds British Birds 97(7): 348-9
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 16:47   #9
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FWIW, Francesca Greenoak 1997 (British Birds: their Folklore, Names and Literature) concludes "that the word 'common' refers not to the frequency of occurrence but is used in the Middle English sense of having no distinguishing features".
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 17:28   #10
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Originally Posted by Richard Klim View Post
FWIW, Francesca Greenoak 1997 (British Birds: their Folklore, Names and Literature) concludes "that the word 'common' refers not to the frequency of occurrence but is used in the Middle English sense of having no distinguishing features".
Typical gull then!
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 17:36   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Klim View Post
FWIW, Francesca Greenoak 1997 (British Birds: their Folklore, Names and Literature) concludes "that the word 'common' refers not to the frequency of occurrence but is used in the Middle English sense of having no distinguishing features".
Interesting. Applies also to Common Sandpiper does it, in her opinion?

Sounds like a worthwhile book; as soon as I sign off here I'll start looking for a copy.
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 17:44   #12
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Originally Posted by fugl View Post
Interesting. Applies also to Common Sandpiper does it, in her opinion?

Sounds like a worthwhile book; as soon as I sign off here I'll start looking for a copy.
There are new and second hand copies on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/British-Birds-...4&sr=8-1-fkmr1 but it might work out cheaper to import a new one from the UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/British-Bird...tt_at_ep_dpt_1
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 17:54   #13
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There are new and second hand copies on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/British-Birds-...4&sr=8-1-fkmr1 but it might work out cheaper to import a new one from the UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/British-Bird...tt_at_ep_dpt_1
Thanks. Just ordered a "tight, clean" used copy from a bookstore in Michigan for the princely sum of $5.90 (inclusive of shipping!).
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 17:57   #14
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Thanks. Just ordered a "tight, clean" used copy from a bookstore in Michigan for the princely sum of $5.90 (inclusive of shipping!).
You can't beat that!
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Old Friday 13th April 2012, 18:17   #15
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Originally Posted by fugl View Post
Applies also to Common Sandpiper does it, in her opinion?
Greenoak: "Sandpiper, the standard name for this bird, was originally (according to Willughby, 1678) a Yorkshire local name".

In this case, the prefix 'Common' is presumably just the usual modern qualifier designed to avoid ambiguity with 'other' sandpipers.

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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 07:15   #16
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Thanks everyone. Didn't occur to me that the Common in the name might not be to do with their numbers!
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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 11:59   #17
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According to my Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names, Thomas Pennant named it Common Gull in 1768 because it was the most numerous of its genus. Also, I recall reading (sorry, no cite) that Black-headed Gull didn't used to be so common in England and Victorians went down to the Thames to watch them when they where still a novelty.
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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 15:49   #18
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Originally Posted by Alastair Rae View Post
According to my Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names, Thomas Pennant named it Common Gull in 1768 because it was the most numerous of its genus. Also, I recall reading (sorry, no cite) that Black-headed Gull didn't used to be so common in England and Victorians went down to the Thames to watch them when they where still a novelty.
I don't have a copy of Pennant, but here's what I take to be the relevant passage (as quoted in the OED: gull, n.1, common gull).

"1766 {Pennant Zool. (1768) II. 424. Common Gull. This is the most numerous of the genus. It breeds on the ledges of the cliffs that impend over the sea."

I don't know if this moves us much forward, since the extract simply juxtaposes "Common Gull" & "most numerous" without making an explicit link between them, and thus leaves the door open to the various other "origin theories" scouted in the thread: "inland gull", "gull of the commons", "nondescript gull". Very slippery creatures, words!
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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 19:31   #19
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"1766 {Pennant Zool. (1768) II. 424. Common Gull. This is the most numerous of the genus. It breeds on the ledges of the cliffs that impend over the sea."
That sounds more like Kittiwake to me!
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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 19:44   #20
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Before all this started I'd been thinking that 'Common' meant they were distributed widely over many countries and even continents. In this case Common (Mew) Gull is found in North America, Europe and Asia.

Having looked at some of the 'common' birds and their habitats, some are found in forests, which doesn't really sound like common land to me, at least as we know it today.

D
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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 19:56   #21
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I have wondered if the term "common " gull stems from a long time ago when when winter plumaged black headed gulls were not seperated from other small gulls inland. But at least common gull is a reconisable name unlike one local bird report that insists in calling them Mew gulls.
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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 21:12   #22
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I have wondered if the term "common " gull stems from a long time ago when when winter plumaged black headed gulls were not seperated from other small gulls inland. But at least common gull is a reconisable name unlike one local bird report that insists in calling them Mew gulls.
And, since "mew" is simply an old word for "gull", "Mew Gull" means "Gull Gull", yet another testimony to the "ordinariness" with which the species has been regarded.
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Old Saturday 14th April 2012, 21:58   #23
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And, since "mew" is simply an old word for "gull", "Mew Gull" means "Gull Gull", yet another testimony to the "ordinariness" with which the species has been regarded.
Sounds a bit like Cygnus cygnus - i.e. swan swan.
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Old Sunday 15th April 2012, 07:39   #24
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Originally Posted by Steve Dudley View Post
Andrew is spot on, it was named Common after its habit of nesting on common land, usually the poor, damp grazing land in a district which the pheasant farmers were forced to graze their livestock on. So it was 'the gull of the common'.
Pheasant farmers? Not a new practice then?

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Thanks. Just ordered a "tight, clean" used copy from a bookstore in Michigan for the princely sum of $5.90 (inclusive of shipping!).
I believe the book was previously titled All the Birds of the Air which is available on http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-lis...&condition=all for £2.52 delivered! It's a great read from what I remember.
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Old Sunday 15th April 2012, 11:20   #25
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Something I was wondering the other day was how did the Common Gull get its name? Although far from rare, compared to other gulls like the Black-headed and Herring they are not what I would call common either (at least in my corner of the country). Was there a time in the past decades/centuries when they were significantly more common than now?
Since no-one else has attempted to answer the other aspect of Stoggler's question:
"gull (1)
Shore bird, early 15c. (in a cook book), probably from Brythonic Celtic, cf. Welsh gwylan "gull," Cornish guilan, Breton goelann; all from O.Celt. *voilenno. Replaced O.E. mæw (see mew (n.1)).
gull (2)
Cant term for "dupe, sucker, credulous person," 1590s, of uncertain origin. Perhaps from verb meaning "to dupe, cheat" (1540s), earlier "to swallow" (1520s), ultimately from gull "throat, gullet" (early 15c.). Or it is perhaps from (or influenced by) the bird? In either case with a sense of "someone who will swallow anything thrown at him." Another possibility is M.E. dial. gull "newly hatched bird" (late 14c.), which is perhaps from O.N. golr "yellow," from the hue of its down."

MJB
With grateful acknowledgement to Online Etymology Dictionary, a very useful source
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