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Meaning of 'Moot' Is a Moot Question

Rob Kyff on

It's 11:45 a.m. at the faculty lunch table. A heated argument breaks out when an art teacher asks: "Is a moot question a question that's debatable or a question that's insignificant?"

The responses from her colleagues are quick and emphatic.

A history teacher claims: "Moot means debatable! Moot is derived from the Old English word 'mot,' which meant an assembly where freemen debated. That's why 'to moot' means to bring an item up for debate, as in 'The representative mooted his proposal on the House floor.'"

An English teacher retorts: "Not so fast! Moot means lacking practical significance. Mock trials in law schools are called moot courts because they're purely academic, and a moot point is one that's abstract or unimportant. In American legal usage, 'to moot' means to render a question of no practical significance, as in, 'the employee's resignation mooted the issue of whether to fire him.'"

Departmental alliances immediately kick in, just as they did among European nations in August of 1914. Music and language teachers back the English teacher while mathematicians and scientists support the historian. We now have "Word" War I on our hands, not to mention a "moot" question -- whatever that is.

"How 'bout them Red Sox?" the art teacher ventures, trying to keep the peace, but it's already too late. Everyone whips out cellphones, but each teacher finds a different answer.

"There's only one way to settle this argument," the English teacher proclaims. "The library. High noon. Choose your weapons: pistols or dictionaries."

Five minutes later, they're all huddled around the library's plumpest and heaviest lexicon. The art teacher quickly finds the entry for "moot."

 

"You're both right!" she proclaims. "A moot question can be an issue that's debatable or one that's insignificant. The dictionary notes that the 'insignificant' meaning, though once criticized by usage experts, is now widely accepted. To determine which of these two meanings is intended, you have to rely on context."

"So our debate over moot," the history teacher says smugly, "was indeed a moot (debatable) issue when we first discussed it in the lunchroom."

Suddenly, a husky football player blunders by and knocks the dictionary off the table; it lands on the English teacher's foot.

"Owwwww!" she screams. "Our debate over moot has suddenly become a moot (insignificant) issue, at least for me."

"You've got it!" the art teacher replies. "But, whichever meaning you intend, never render 'moot' as 'mute.'"

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Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to WordGuy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

 

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