• radiation mechanisms: non-thermal;
  • BL Lacertae objects: general;
  • quasars: general;
  • X-rays: general


We study the BL Lac objects detected in the 1-year all-sky survey of the Fermi satellite, with an energy spectral slope αγ in the 0.1–100 GeV band greater than 1.2. In the αγ versus γ-ray luminosity plane, these BL Lacs occupy the region populated by flat spectrum radio quasars (FSRQs). Studying the properties of their spectral energy distributions (SEDs) and of their emitting lines, we find that several of these BL Lacs have an SED similar to FSRQs and that they do have broad lines of large equivalent width (EW), and should be reclassified as FSRQs even adopting the current phenomenological definition (i.e. EW of the emitting line greater than 5 Å). In other cases, even if the EW is small, the emitting lines can be as luminous as in quasars, and again their SED is similar to the SED of FSRQs. Sources classified as BL Lacs with an SED appearing as intermediate between BL Lacs and FSRQs also have relatively weak broad emission lines and small EW, and can be considered as transition sources. These properties are confirmed also by model fitting that allows us to derive the relevant intrinsic jet parameters and the jet power. This study leads us to propose a physical distinction between the two classes of blazars, based on the luminosity of the broad-line region measured in Eddington units. The dividing line is of the order of LBLR/LEdd∼ 5 × 10−4, in good agreement with the idea that the presence of strong emitting lines is related to a transition in the accretion regime, becoming radiatively inefficient below a disc luminosity of the order of 1 per cent of the Eddington one.