Time for another of these, I guess. Been fairly busy (though only slightly with immediately productive work; still much room for new book clients, hint, hint!), so not a lot to say today. Let’s dig into my files for some more ideas …

Oh, here’s one: The tendency of folks to refer to something as a “moot point,” because it’s something that’s already been voted on, or ruled about or otherwise rendered unarguable.

Let me begin with some dictionary definitions:

moot  (mt)


1.      Law A hypothetical case argued by law students as an exercise.
2.     An ancient English meeting, especially a representative meeting of the freemen of a shire.
tr.v. moot·ed, moot·ing, moots


a. To bring up as a subject for discussion or debate.
b. To discuss or debate.
2.     Law To plead or argue (a case) in a moot court.
This is the first meaning, and is almost entirely related to the practice of law. A moot court is a  venue for law students practicing  their courtroom skills, usually with a made-up case invoking some legal concept they’re studying at the time.
When it is used as an adjective, it means the opposite of what most people think it does:
moot [moot] adjective: 1. open to discussion or debate; debatable; doubtful: a moot point.
However, when you look at the other definitions, something else shows up:
2. of little or no practical value or meaning; purely academic. 3. (Chiefly Law) not actual; theoretical; hypothetical.
In other words, according to this, “moot” can mean either “still debatable” OR “not worth discussion! In neither case does it mean, “outcome already determined, so not debate possible,” which is how most folks use the term now.

Then, if you look up “moot point” you get this:

moot point noun.
1) a legal question which no court has decided, so it is still debatable or unsettled.
2) an issue only of academic interest.
Here you have one definition saying it’s NOT been decided yet (so it’s still debatable), and another saying it’s not worth arguing about. Neither definition says “it’s already been determined”; in fact, the first one says it has NOT!

Another source defines moot point as: “A debatable question, an issue open to argument; also, an irrelevant question, a matter of no importance. For example, Whether Shakespeare actually wrote the poem remains a moot point among critics , or It’s a moot point whether the chicken or the egg came first . This term originated in British law where it described a point for discussion in a moot , or assembly, of law students. By the early 1700s it was being used more loosely in the present sense.”

Now let’s explore the real intention when most folks say something is a “moot point.” Perhaps the word they’re actually seeking is:


The dictionary definitions of this word, even just as an adjective, are way too many:

1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a school, especially one of higher learning.

a. Relating to studies that are liberal or classical rather than technical or vocational.
b. Relating to scholarly performance: a student’s academic average.
3. Of or belonging to a scholarly organization.
4. Scholarly to the point of being unaware of the outside world. See Synonyms at pedantic.
5. Based on formal education.
6. Formalistic or conventional.
7. Theoretical or speculative without a practical purpose or intention. See Synonyms at theoretical.
8. Having no practical purpose or use.
It can also be defined as a noun:

1. A member of an institution of higher learning.
2. One who has an academic viewpoint or a scholarly background.
None of this is helping, obviously.
Let’s get more confused. According to the Urban Dictionary, “A moot point is an expression meaning that something doesn’t matter so there is no point for debate because of certain circumstances. It is either irrelevant/not worth arguing over. (Example: Your favorite toy broke, so it is a moot point whether it has a crappy design.)”
Wikipedia, meanwhile, says:
A “moot point” is when something could be considered irrelevant.
Academic” is a term used to describe a topic that is usually only discussed or studied simply to know about it, or exists as a tool to teach something else — its actual real-world application is either not significant or non-existent.

And then there’s this:

Are You Sure You Mean “Moot”?

by Maeve Maddox, Daily Writing Tips
“Here’s the first definition of mootas given in the OED:

1. Originally in Law, of a case, issue, etc.: proposed for discussion at a moot (MOOT n.1 4). Later also gen.: open to argument, debatable; uncertain, doubtful; unable to be firmly resolved. Freq. in moot case, [moot] point.

Now that I know this definition, I cannot bring myself to use the word moot in the sense with which it is commonly used in American English.

The OED acknowledges American usage in its second definition:

2. N. Amer. (orig. Law). Of a case, issue, etc.: having no practical significance or relevance; abstract, academic. Now the usual sense in North America.

I’m sorry to lose it, but since I’m writing for an international audience, the adjective moot is a word I now avoid.”

Same goes for me: I’m sticking with “it’s academic” … and booting the “moot” from my vocabulary!