"extremely moot"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Apr 22 04:32:52 UTC 2005

>From: "James Smith" <jsmithjamessmith at yahoo.com>
>Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 6:20 AM
>Subject: Re: "extremely moot"
>>---------------------- Information from the mail
>>header -----------------------
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       James Smith <jsmithjamessmith at YAHOO.COM>
>>Subject:      Re: "extremely moot"
>>"Moot" means arguable, open to debate, extremely moot
>>- extremely arguable; that the Essenes lived at Qumran
>>is not accepted as fact by the writer.  A law school
>>Moot Court is a place for debate, not a place for
>>stating foredrawn conclusions, but because they
>>usually debate cases that have been decided, the
>>outcomes of the arguments have no weight, therefore
>>the secondary - somewhat contradictory -  meaning of
>>"moot" as not significant.
Below is the AHD4 Usage Note on "moot".  IIRC, this is a classic case
of what I (but not others) call an "enantionym", a.k.a. an antilogy,
or a word that is its own opposite, or one with two diametrically
opposed senses.  Anyway, it's a nice reanalysis.

The adjective moot is originally a legal term going back to the
mid-16th century. It derives from the noun moot, in its sense of a
hypothetical case argued as an exercise by law students.
Consequently, a moot question is one that is arguable or open to
debate. But in the mid-19th century people also began to look at the
hypothetical side of moot as its essential meaning, and they started
to use the word to mean "of no significance or relevance." Thus, a
moot point, however debatable, is one that has no practical value. A
number of critics have objected to this use, but 59 percent of the
Usage Panel accepts it in the sentence The nominee himself chastised
the White House for failing to do more to support him, but his
concerns became moot when a number of Republicans announced that
they, too, would oppose the nomination. When using moot one should be
sure that the context makes clear which sense is meant.

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