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What does Moot Mean?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The word, moot, has several definitions which are in themselves moot. In common usage, the word has often been used to describe a topic that no longer requires debate. The Reverend Jessie Jackson was lampooned frequently on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s for his soundbite, “The question is moot.”

Current usage of this term differs significantly from initial use by Anglo-Saxons, from which the word derives. Moot meant a meet, often a town meeting, and might be spelled as “mot.” This should not be confused with the French mot, which means word. In a meeting, debatable questions might arise. The moot was the forum for solving subjects under debate and thus leads to the definition as an arguable or debatable point.

Clearly, current usage has led to the word meaning the absolute opposite of arguable or debatable. Instead it is a settled point, implying argument and debate took place before an issue was rendered moot. However, in legal usage, the original definition may be more applicable.

For example, participation in moot court is a frequent exercise of law students. The term can sometimes be used as a synonym for a mock trial. In a moot court, students may debate and argue issues. Often, a mock trial is different because it tends to argue matters of fact before a mock jury. In a moot court, students are more likely to argue the particulars of a matter of law that might be of current interest, submitting legal briefs and making oral arguments, as well.

To confuse matters, in point of law, a moot point is one a judge does not consider, since it has been previously ruled upon by another judge. In this case, the word is synonymous with Reverend Jackson’s use of the term. It is theorized both in law and in common language, the term might actually more closely be related to the term mute. A point that is no longer arguable essentially deserves silence or no response. It is mute or silent and no longer requires discussion or debate.

The word "moot" tends to demonstrate the slippery and changing nature of the English language. A word that has opposing definitions suggests our language is constantly in flux. Ultimately, one would suppose usage of the word will tend toward one definition, as it now tends toward the definition of not requiring debate. However, this point is moot.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon37877 — On Jul 22, 2009

In the legal writing, an issue is considered *moot* not when it is settled or resolved, but rather, when it is without consequence and therefore need not be decided. For example, the issue of whether a convicted prisoner is entitled to immediate release due to alleged defects in his trial may be deemed *moot* if the prisoner is subsequently released on parole.

By anon27396 — On Feb 27, 2009

What does "dismissed as Moot" mean?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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