Where the dangers presented by those with a little learning are allayed        

Mooting a Moot Point

The word 'moot' is one of those lovely curiosities/anomalies that keeps me interested in the English language.

As a verb, 'moot' means, and has always meant "open to discussion", "needing to be discussed", "debatable".  However, like all value-judgement words ('interesting', 'worthwhile', 'lovable', etc), it is, and always was, often used sarcastically, e.g:

  • You see the way that guy bullies his employees?  Real lovable.
  • Well, that was five hours of my life I won't be getting back.  Really worthwhile.
  • You make smaller boxes out of cereal boxes?  How interesting.
  • So, essentially, what you're saying is that if we don't sell anything, we won't make any money?  That's a real moot point.

The joy of 'moot', however, is not that it can (like any value-judgement word) be used sarcastically; it's that so many people came to believe that the sarcastic meaning was the real meaning that some dictionaries (those run by the weakest kneed, presumably) actually added an entry for the word that defines it as meaning the opposite of what it really means.

See here, for an example.

It's a textbook case of the blind leading those with a little learning.

Someone tell the illustrious (yeah, that's sarcasm), brilliant (that, too), knowledgeable (don't make me repeat myself) gentlefolk who are in charge of such dictionaries to look up the word 'sarcasm'.

I don't think it would be breaking any universal laws to add the statement "often used sarcastically" to the entries of words that are as misunderstood as is 'moot'.

That's only for special cases, though, Mr weak-kneed, jelly-spined dictionary compiler.  You don't have to add it to every word that is often used sarcastically (= every word that is used to judge a value).

Everyone else:  If you want to use 'moot' (or any other word that is used to judge a value) sarcastically, you go right on ahead just try to make sure that everyone knows whether you're being sarcastic or direct, because if you create a possibility that people can misunderstand what you mean, it's guaranteed that some will.

But let's not discuss it, any more because, no matter how moot or non-moot it is, it doesn't actually merit very much discussion ("partially moot"?  "moo"?)




Go back to the Grumpy Old Scribe index page

Go back to the main site


This page is copyright © 2015 by Mark Wallace.  All Rights Reserved.