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Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Sep 09, 2011 10:39 pm

• moot •

Pronunciation: mut • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective

Meaning: 1. [Noun] A public meeting, especially one convened for judicial or legislative purposes. 2. [Adjective] Arguable, debatable, open to debate, not settled, as a moot question. 3. [Adjective, Law] Undebatable, of no significance because irrelevant or already decided.

Notes: Today's word is what some have called a 'contronym', a word with two meanings that contradict each other. Outside North America, the adjective means "arguable, open to debate" while in North America it means "not debatable". The noun is seldom used in North America but is still alive in other dialects of English: "Town officials were called together in a moot to discuss enforcement of the new statute." The comparative of this word is mooter while the superlative is mootest.

In Play: We are primarily interested in the adjectival meaning of today's word. In Britain you might say, "Whether Franklin could carry the can of paint to the roof on his head without spilling any was a moot question that Franklin did not want to settle that particular day." Here the question is open, unsettled. In the US, however, someone is more likely to say, after the accident, "Whether Franklin could have made it to the roof without spilling any paint had Rory not shaken the ladder is a moot point." Here the point is no longer relevant since Franklin is currently sitting on the ground covered with paint.

Word History: Today's Good Word meant simply "meeting" in Middle English, when it was spelled simply mot. The adjective moot is a 16th-century legal term that derives from the noun in its sense of a hypothetical case argued as an exercise by a meeting of law students. Originally, a moot question was one that is arguable or open to debate. But in the mid-19th century people also began to look at the hypothetical side of moot as its essential meaning, and they started to use the word to mean "of no significance or relevance". Thus, a moot point, however debatable, became one that has no practical value.
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David Myer
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Postby David Myer » Sat Sep 10, 2011 3:14 am

This is a very interesting example for the discussion on yesterday's word.

Moot clearly means 'debatable' insofar as that is it's original meaning. That it has been misconstrued over a long period (in North America) and taken to mean 'not worthy of debate' does not legitimise the error. I know language changes and I'm not fighting that. What I am fighting is those changes brought about by ignorance, and to the detriment of clarity. For example with this word 'moot', and also with the impending loss of the distinction between 'alternate' and 'alternative' (that we discussed yesterday in relation to 'mettlesome').

It may be too late for moot, but there is surely time to stamp out the use of alternate when alternative is meant? Let's do it!

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Postby Perry Lassiter » Sat Sep 10, 2011 12:08 pm

Thanks for discussing this word. Now I know I'm not crazy (or more so than my friends think). I have carried both contradictory definitions in my brain for years. Only lately have I found that usually when I read or hear it, moot means over and done with. Obviously, my confusion comes from being an obsessive reader, assuming words by British authors mean the same as words by American authors. All this in spite of never having gone up a lift in my life, tho I travel in a elevator evey week!

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Postby misterdoe » Sat Sep 10, 2011 3:05 pm

This is the first time I'm finding out about the "debatable" meaning. I always understood moot point to mean "not worthy of debate"; a moot court to mean one whose ruling is not binding (players on sports teams sometimes have these, called "kangaroo courts"); and mooted to mean "made irrelevant or unnecessary."

The "leap" between the original and current meaning is clear, though; the students debating a matter don't have the authority to make a binding decision, so the point being debated is moot in the North American use of the word.

I'd had a nagging feeling we'd had this word before, and I just checked and found out that we did: ... light=moot. It was posted in 2006, but there was no discussion on it until last year.

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Postby cjohngraham » Sat Sep 10, 2011 6:53 pm

Thanks for posting this word and its meaning. I don't know how many times I have heard people use "mute" when they meant "moot." Education is in a sad state.

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Postby Slava » Sat Sep 10, 2011 8:12 pm

And, to boot, we all now know just what an Ent Moot is.
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