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Miranda vs. Language


By Miranda

Hi YouPlayers, Miranda here. For those who don't already know me, I'm the Online Puzzle Editor at Lovatts and YouPlay. I'd like to introduce you to my new blog - loosely based around word usage, controversial clue debates and those random idiosyncracies of our fascinating (yet often frustrating) language. Puzzlers are by nature passionate about language systems - and I hope I inspire you to add your comments!




When I hear someone say that a point is moot, I know exactly what they mean.

I'm happy with my dictionary's definitions of moot as 'debatable', 'arguable' or 'disputable', all of which you may find as clues in our YouPlay crosswords.

Students of law attend a Moot Court to debate something that may be trivial or significant but the 'moot' bit relates to the issue not yet being settled, thus having to be discussed - and not to the issue's weight or worthiness.

Or so I believed until I found that a good many people think that a 'moot point' is one that is purely academic.

That 'good many people' doesn't include just my limited acquaintance but the entire population of English-speaking North America where one meaning of moot is exactly that, if a point is moot then it is irrelevant to the legal issue being argued in court.

All good. That's how languages grow. Words acquire new or extended meanings. We import and export words, their meanings and usage.

I can see how the notion of 'irrelevance', in the legal sense, could arise from or coexist with the notion of 'not yet determined'.  And it's natural to remove that meaning from its court surrounds and put it to use in the community. So does it matter if we then take the short step from 'irrelevant' and 'purely academic' to 'unimportant' and 'not worth the bother of discussing', making the word adopt almost contrary meanings?

During an argument, for example (a calm, reasoned one, not a screaming match), is a moot point one that is disputed, and has to be settled before debate can proceed, or is it a red herring designed to distract from the crux?

And, in the meantime, should we here at YouPlay include 'irrelevant' as a clue for 'moot'? And don't get me started on 'reticent'...


Have your say - comment on this blog

12 Responses to

Miranda vs. Language

yow1e said:
September 25, 2009 at 6:54 PM

No,they both have different meanings. Furthermore have you read samuel johnsons "dictionary of the english language", if not, then go to "", then ask the question again.

September 26, 2009 at 12:26 PM

i agree with you Miranda..... a moot point is a point of disagreement or debate in my usage. To be irrelevant just doesn't cut it.

deeneecee said:
September 26, 2009 at 1:28 PM

I also agree with Miranda. I have always been under the impression, that a moot point is a debatable or disputable issue.

September 26, 2009 at 1:42 PM

My 1958 dictionary of Origins, Routledge (i.e. British) relates moot to meet, i.e. to meet for talk or discussion. My 1945 Webster's (American, copyrighted from 1903 onwards) says "propose for discussion" for the verb. It is also related to "meet" in this one. Just thought I would put in my two penn'orth.

Suzi2 said:
September 27, 2009 at 9:10 AM

I always thought that a moot point was something which was unable to be decided, at least at this point in time. Our family also use it as being not important in this discussion.

Yudit said:
September 27, 2009 at 9:28 AM

Don't surrender to American 'meanings' Miranda. Their first dictionary was compiled by a man with very little learning. The use of moot as unimportant doesn't make any sense.

jtarleton said:
September 28, 2009 at 10:20 AM

What really gets me going is when people refer to a mute point. Is that one that is simply dumb?! : )

kragzy said:
September 30, 2009 at 11:55 AM

In feudal Saxon England, the "moot" was a meeting held in villages to decide on certain matters of justice (matters which were not settled by the Feudal Lord). Hence a moot point is one which is under consideration by the moot and, by definition, is undecided. A moot point must be relevant, otherwise it would not require a decision. So moot never means irrelevant. Some people think a moot point is one which cannot be discussed (with possible false connection to 'mute'). This too, is wrong.

yow1e said:
October 02, 2009 at 10:02 AM

kragzy used the word "decide" (first word second line). Now that is wrong, if you take samuel johnsons dictionary of the english language, then moot is defined as (a) to plead a mock cause; to state a point of law by way of exercise as was done in the inns of court at appointed times. Now to "plead" or "state" is not the same as to "decide". As a matter of interest (a) "relevant" could not be found in the dictionary of the english language (b) s. johnson quotes john locke (the philosopher) for his definition of moot case or point "a point or case unsettled and disputable". Just thought I throw that in.

kragzy said:
October 02, 2009 at 11:11 AM

Good point yow1e. I would have been more correct if I said that the moot was a meeting that "attempted to settle" matters which the Feudal Lord couldn't be bothered with. You can imagine the Lord saying to his serfs, "Go and sort it out for yourself." And they would try to - but no serf had final authority and so it was, I guess, a "mock cause" insofar as the Lord wanted nothing to do with it and it could only be settled by consensus. If that was not achieved then it would remain "unsettled and disputable" as per John Locke. Thinking further about it... I suppose that from the Lord's viewpoint the matter is irrelevent. Hmmmmm.

October 03, 2009 at 11:07 AM

I agree with kragzy on both occasions as that was my understanding, this is such a moot point though.

July 11, 2012 at 4:19 PM

A moot point is one that is debatable but does not have relevance to the primary discussion. We acknowledge it as a moot point,a tangent, and return to the topic.