The UK’s Foreign Secretary says that his avoidance of the recent Commons vote sanctioning the liar and ex-PM Boris Johnson was a moot point. I need to point out that this ‘moot point’ is not a ‘moot point’ at all, not even cleverly.
It’s another example of why spending too long detangling modern political vocabulary encourages flexiblabber-phrases like this to fan out for so long that your own mind seems to serrate into mirror infinity.
‘Moot’ is an old, utterly respectable, dependable word. Apparently it is also variable, meaning whatever politicians through the centuries have wished it to mean.
It’s a 10th or 11th century word (at latest) meaning a meeting or an assembly of people, especially for the purpose of making decisions. It also describes where the assembly is held.
This meaning is honoured by ley hunters, pagans, wiccans and others in Britain, who arrange regular assemblies which they very properly call a ‘Moot’.
The word itself seems to have developed from ‘gemōt’, an Old English name for a judicial court. In Middle English we find ‘mēten’, from Old English ‘metan’ to find, find out; fall in with, encounter, come into the same place with; obtain, and from Proto-Germanic and Old Norse ‘motjanan’ and ‘mæta’, respectively.
Old Frisian has ‘meta’ (now coopted by Facebook), Old Saxon has ‘motian’ to meet, and Gothic has ‘gamotijan’, to meet or assemble..
A moot point was also, by the 16th century, a legal issue needing to be made precise. Politicians have blurred this distinction over centuries so that it became a specific point of discussion that could and even should be argued.
It has become blurred even more to the status of dishrag in the USA, where even the Supreme Court has noted that ‘a moot question’ has no bearing on an issue for legal discussion, indicating that the word now means the opposite of what it has come to mean in the UK, essentially that a moot point is of no consequence in the USA and of much consequence in the UK.
I wince at mentioning it, but there are those (both politicians and lawyers) who have been heard to refer to a ‘mute point’, thinking it accurate, since it has a meaning favouring the US definition trend.
The mythical druids at their moots in the mythical groves of Britain and Ireland would be shaking their grey locks at this most startling etymological development of the past millennium.
But yes, I suppose, sanctioning the liar Boris Johnson is a moot point, in some universe or other…