So, it’s not a moot point: where did it come from? Northern Europe, yes, but not Celtic languages. Origins of the word go to Germany and Scandinavia, all with a sense of a meeting. Remember “Ent Moot” in Tolkien’s The Two Towers? Yet that is a real meeting. Noting “mock” about it.
So how did our word take on its modern sense of a “moot court”?
Moot can also mean a tree-stump , something our Oxford Don would have certainly considered in choosing his term for a meeting of talking, walking trees. Some noun usages mean merely “an argument” rather than the place where it occurs. Only when we get to moot as an adjective, meaning “having no practical significance or relevance; abstract, academic” or “unable to be resolved,” do we get our familiar meaning. Points in court were declared “moot,” and I have idea how the very word for the gathering became the word for a non-desirable outcome.
Bryan Garner’s excellent A Dictionary of Modern American Usage holds that “this shift in meaning occurred about 1900” (436). He says not why.
The reasons for that shift are not moot points. It would be worth more research to discover why.
Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
Belgrade Moot Court, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Garner, Bryan A. A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.