Are You Sure You Mean “Moot”?
I just caught myself writing “the question is moot” meaning “the question is irrelevant or closed.” I immediately scrapped “moot” for a different adjective.
Why? Because I remembered an occasion on which my son, a journalist, ruined the word for me by explaining that I was using it incorrectly.
To me a “moot question” was a “closed question.” Discussion over, period. Apparently the opposite is true. A “moot question” is one that is arguable.
Here’s the first definition of moot as 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.
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