γδ T cells are a unique and conserved population of lymphocytes that have been the subject of a recent explosion of interest owing to their essential contributions to many types of immune response and immunopathology. But what does the integration of recent and long-established studies really tell us about these cells and their place in immunology? The time is ripe to consider the evidence for their unique and crucial functions. We conclude that whereas B cells and αβ T cells are commonly thought to contribute primarily to the antigen-specific effector and memory phases of immunity, γδ T cells are distinct in that they combine conventional adaptive features (inherent in their T cell receptors and pleiotropic effector functions) with rapid, innate-like responses that can place them in the initiation phase of immune reactions. This underpins a revised perspective on lymphocyte biology and the regulation of immunogenicity.