SEVERAL WORDS ARE MISUSED with great consistently—and often great dexterity—on the internet. “Moot” is one of them. Given that it can be used as a noun, a verb, and an adjective, it’s not surprising that users get things mixed up and become misusers and even abusers. While its use as an adjective is what I want to address here, I might as well give you the whole shebang.
According to Merriam-Webster Online, as a noun, moot means “a deliberative assembly primarily for the administration of justice, especially one held by the freemen of an Anglo-Saxon community.” The word is derived from the Old English gemōt, a name for a judicial court.
“Originally, moot named either the court itself or an argument that might be debated by one. By the 16th century, the legal role of judicial moots had diminished, and the only remnant of them were moot courts, academic mock courts in which law students could try hypothetical cases for practice.
When I come across moot as an adjective on the internet, it is being used correctly to mean debatable about half the time.
Back then, moot was used as a synonym of debatable, but because the cases students tried in moot courts were simply academic exercises, the word gained the second sense, ‘deprived of practical significance.’ Some commentators still frown on using moot to mean ‘purely academic,’ but most editors now accept both senses as standard.”
Then there is moot as a verb, where it means “to bring up for discussion, to broach, to debate, and, archaically, to discuss from a legal standpoint.” This definition seems to be a major source of the confusion among misusers—at last, I think it may be.
Like any good quote, “Moo point” has been marketed on a variety of objects, notably shirts, coffee mugs, and the inevitable pin-back buttons. Here it’s getting a Christmas backdrop.
It’s like a cow’s opinion
Then there is the adjective, whose primary definition is (a) open to question; debatable; and (b) subjected to discussion; disputed. This is found in virtually every dictionary. But it has a secondary definition: deprived of practical significance; made abstract or purely academic.
When I come across moot as an adjective on the internet, it is being used correctly to mean debatable about half the time. But the other half? I’ll be demned if I can usually figure out what the writer had in mind when he selected it. 1
And all this brings me around to the episode from the seventh season of Friends ” (2000) titled “The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs.” Joey (Matt LeBlanc) chimes in on a discussion about a young man that Rachel (Jennifer Anniston) has a crush on. 2
Joey: “All right, Rach, the big question is, ‘Does he like you?’ Because if he doesn’t like you, this is all a moo point.”
Rachel: “Huh! A ‘moo point’?”
Joey: “Yeah, it’s like a cow’s opinion: It doesn’t matter. It’s moo.”
Rachel: “Have I been living with him for too long, or did that all just make sense?”
Actually, Joey’s dumb definition of moo is not all that far removed from the secondary definition of moot above (“deprived of practical significance”) and makes a helluvalot more sense than the uses I find of moot on the internet. 3
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is from another episode from the seventh season of Friends, “The One With The Holiday Armadillo.” I chose it because it presents Joey in such a fine light. (Actually, I couldn’t find a really good image of Joey from the “The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs.”)
1 “They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell? That demned elusive Pimpernel.” – Baroness Emmuska Orczy
2 For readers who are not familiar with Friends, Joey Tribbiani wouldn’t be one of the brighter bulbs on anyone’s Christmas tree. But he is nigh on irresistible to a good portion of the human female population of this planet.
3 Now I’m wondering now if there are millions of writers out there who have this episode embedded in their subconscious and its affecting their use of the word moot.