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First I want to be clear, I'm from the Westminster system, we use the British English in my country of origin, and so I have had a hard time with adapting to American English usage in both writing and speaking. So I was writing an abstract for a paper I'm working on, and I asked my husband to edit it, and we had an argument over my use of moot.

In "Do Television Presidential Debates help inform voters" James B. Lemert (1993) notes that there are arguments supporting and opposing this moot.

Growing up doing debate and watching the high school debate challenge on television, the use of the word moot as a noun is prevalent and normal. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong, but what I really want to know, if this was ever a practice that has since changed to using the term "moot point" over "moot".

So an example would be:

Regarding the moot, "Corporal punishment should be banned in schools", my colleagues and I will prove the affirmative.

Another example in practice: https://youtu.be/_sZ2hnifAKs?t=11m29s

While I came across a previous discussion on the use of the phrase "the point is moot", it was not helpful in exploring the history or additional usage.

"The point is moot"

I understand that the word is used as an adjective but I learnt "moot" as a noun that can be used as an adjective. What's even more annoying to me, right now, is that the term "moot point" was introduced to my vocabulary through American culture.

Full disclosure, I'm a dyslexic adult who is very conscious of the difference between what I know to be true and what is a simple mechanical mistake. So while I'm struggling personally to grapple with an error, I would like to be reaffirmed that this is a learned error, because of changes in the English language usage.

Help!

  • The full OED has three "noun" definitions for moot - 1) A meeting, an assembly of people, 2) A tree stump, 3) An implement used in block-making. Your cited usage is an adjective modifying "Corporal punishment should be banned in schools" (which is a title, identifying a subject / question / debatable point). Compare with, for example, Regarding the controversial "Black Lives Matter", the president was circumspect. Arguably a more explicit noun (such as issue) has been "implied / deleted" after your moot and my controversial. – FumbleFingers Feb 12 '18 at 17:00
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    This usage will be confusing to the vast majority of Americans. I'm familiar with it as a historical usage and in the context of British legal moots, but only because of Moot Court in law school and the Ent Moot in Lord of the Rings – and because I'm a language nerd who looked it up based on those encounters. – 1006a Feb 12 '18 at 17:17
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The etymology of moot is certainly as a noun, it being an Anglo-Saxon "meeting place".

The OED gives as its first sense, 1a:

A meeting, an assembly of people, esp. one for judicial or legislative purposes. Also: a place where a meeting is held.

It's etymology is given as:

Cognate with Middle Dutch moet (Dutch †moet ), Old High German muot , Old Icelandic mót , Old Swedish mot (Swedish mot (now rare)), Danish regional mod , and (in different stem-classes) Middle Low German mȫte (German regional (Low German) Mööt ), Middle High German muote , muoze , and Norwegian møte , Swedish möte , Danish møde ); perhaps related to the Germanic base of mathel v. Further etymology uncertain.

Here are some recent noun senses of moot:

Sense 1a.

1973 Where Apr. 112/1 The moot, consisting of all school, community, and ancillary staff,..was dealing with such issues as representation on the governing body.

2000 News (Karachi) 25 Apr. 17/7 PCB is to be represented at the ICC moot by its Director Yawar Saeed.

Sense 4.

  1. Law. The discussion of a hypothetical case by law students for practice; a hypothetical doubtful case that may be used for discussion. Cf. bolt n.3 2. Revived in the Inns of Court in the 19th cent. but fell into disuse (last retained at Gray's Inn according to N.E.D.), 1908). Reintroduced subsequently into universities where law is studied and into the Inns of Court.

1962 E. Mitchell Business Man's Lawyer 441/2 Moot, a gathering of lawyers or law students, to argue—semi-formally—interesting but academic points of law.

1982 G. Williams Learning Law (ed. 11) 169 A mock trial differs from a moot in that it is a mock jury-trial, with jury and witnesses, not an argument on law.

The adjectival sense with which we are all most familiar clearly derives from the idea of something being debateable - a "moot point" is one that carries uncertain validity like things that are considered before "a moot" or meeting place. It's earliest recorded use as an adjective, however, is not until 1563 - five centuries after the Saxon King Harold had received an arrow in the eye, and the language had had a massive infusion of Norman French:

  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. Frequently in moot case, moot point.

1956 G. Durrell Drunken Forest x. 199 Whether he could have bitten us successfully..was rather a moot point, but it was not the sort of experiment I cared to make.

1990 Economist (BNC) 24 Mar. 125 Midland seems likely to be heading for the altar before long. Whether the Hongkong Bank will be the one waiting is a mooter question.

In conclusion I would say that whilst moot may have begun as a noun, it was one that had an institutional sense. I have not seen any references suggesting it can be used in the abstract sense for which you provide an example i.e. I have not seen "a moot case", or "a moot point" simply referred to as "a moot". Indeed I would say that modern everyday British usage (outside of places such as the Inns of Court, or perhaps some surviving relic of an Anglo-Saxon institution) is no different to the way it is used in America.

  • Fascinating. I've only ever understood 'moot' to mean uncertain. I'll now be dropping the meeting place version into casual conversation! – marcellothearcane Feb 12 '18 at 21:45
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If this is a formal academic paper, you'll want to avoid elided words, no matter how common they might be in spoken English. And if your target audience is American, your husband is correct, in as much as neither of your provided examples match any American usage that I've ever heard. As an educated American, if I heard the term "the moot," I would have no idea what was being spoken about.

In common American usage, a "moot point" is one where the outcome doesn't matter, or in other words, one not worth arguing over. I've only ever heard it used dismissively, and never without the final "point." There is also the related term "moot court," where a case is tried, but the outcome has no consequences.

I cannot speak to British usage of the term, historical or otherwise. It's quite possible it might be used quite differently in Britain. Also, if your country of origin is not England, it might be possible that your own country has a distinctive usage that is not international. A third possibility is that this is specialized jargon used frequently in the world of staged debates, but not well-known outside of it. If this last is the case, you'll still want to avoid the term unless you are actually directly addressing that specific audience.

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Etymonline connects it back to PIE root associated with "meet"; i.e., place of meeting. I have encountered it used as a noun to refer to a meeting of the minds, or a debate; however, I've not encountered your example "supporting/opposing this moot", which I think you're using to mean "a point put forward in a debate". That particular usage will stand out as unfamiliar to the average American reader; I think it will be easily understood, just not the way that most Americans use the word.

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