Communication 101

What Is a Moot Point? Examples, Uses, and More

Chances are you’ve heard the phrase “moot point” many times in your life. It’s a common expression with an intriguing origin story, and it’s often mispronounced. It also happens to be misused frequently. 

The only thing worse than bland communication is inaccurate communication. Knowing precisely what a moot point is and how to use it correctly can help you become a better communicator. 

If you would like to engage more in virtual meetings and strengthen your case as a competent communicator, keep reading Poised’s explanation below. We promise it’s not a moot point!

What Does Moot Mean?

You can't make sense of the phrase "moot point" without understanding the word "moot." Essentially, moot functions as three separate parts of speech, each having its own definition.

  • Moot is an adjective for suggesting a noun is debatable or subject to scrutiny but without any possibility of a definitive answer; therefore, there's no practical value in discussing the noun further. 
  • Moot is a verb used to introduce a topic or idea for debate or discussion; it also means to declare something irrelevant for practical purposes. 
  • Moot is a noun to describe a hypothetical, academic discussion about a legal matter; it also refers to a mock trial in law school that looks at a hypothetical case.

The word moot is often used to explain a topic that no longer requires or warrants debate. Saturday Night Live poked fun at Rev. Jesse Jackson many times for his "the question is moot" soundbite. 

The current usage of moot is quite different than when Anglo-Saxons initially used it. Today, people use it to suggest that a point is settled, therefore not arguable or debatable. The implication is that debate and argument already occurred before the issue was considered moot. Be careful; moot is often applied differently in legal professions.

For instance, law students participate in “moot court,” where they may argue the specifics of a matter of law that is of current interest. Students go the whole nine yards in moot court, including making oral arguments and submitting legal briefs.

The term “mock trial” is sometimes used as a synonym for moot court. However, mock trials are often different because they argue matters of fact before a mock jury.

What Is the Origin of the Word Moot? 

The current meanings of moot and moot point are, in a way, the opposite of their original meanings. The word "moot" dates back to medieval England. Moots (or “meets”) were councils or assemblies where governments debated political issues of the day.

The nation was divided into “hundreds” (juridical areas), all of which had an assembly of the people known as “Hundred Moots.” In British English, moot would mean to raise a point believed to be worth debating. 

Needless to say, the medieval form of government is no longer operating, but the term hundred is still used to describe the procedural device that gives consent to a British Parliament Member's resignation.

MPs cannot resign; if a member wants to leave Parliament, they must apply for the notional position of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. It's these types of assemblies where points brought up for debate were rendered moot.

The introduction of moot courts ushered in a change in the meaning of moot. These sessions allow law students to train for their profession via arguing moot points (hypothetical cases).

Since these cases are purely theoretical and essentially provide no substantive outcome, the term moot point has slowly morphed to mean "unimportant" or "not worth discussing.” These are the prevailing meanings of moot point today.

Is Moot an Out-of-Date Word?

It can be argued that the word “moot” itself is moot, that it serves no practical purpose in the everyday, modern English language. With that said, it comes down to preference, as with the use of other language devices. 

The fact that people still say moot to describe a topic or subject that warrants no further discussion or debate suggests that it is still a useful term. Plus, it’s a well-established term in law, which we can’t expect to go anywhere anytime soon. 

While this might not be a fresh or new word, we love the idea of making this your word of the day. As long as you use it correctly, you don’t have to worry about the word moot wrecking your virtual presentation or speech!

What Is the Definition of Moot Point?

As the term suggests, a “moot point” is a subject or topic that has been rendered moot. People use the phrase moot point to imply a discussion wouldn’t be practical since there is no way to reach a satisfactory agreement. Nonetheless, someone could discuss the matter in a hypothetical or academic setting.

Here are a few different meanings of moot point to consider:

  • Moot point describes a topic or issue that is debatable or arguable but that there is no foreseeable solution or answer to.
  • Most people use moot point to indicate that continued discussions on the topic or issue at hand would be a waste of time because there will never be an agreement, or the topic simply doesn't matter anymore.
  • You might also call a topic a moot point if you could talk about it indefinitely without ever reaching an agreement, answer, or solution.
  • A moot point is a fact that doesn’t matter because it doesn’t apply or contribute to the current situation or topic. 

Moot Point vs. Mute Point

Remember how we mentioned that the correct phrase moot point is often mispronounced? Enter “mute point” — a nonexistent phrase that serves as the most common mispronunciation of moot point

A lot of people, including your famous Friends from NBC, have a little trouble with this phrase, although Joey might argue passion for this grammar rule is a “moo point.”

Mute point is an error; it does not exist in standard American English. With that said, it's understandable why these terms get confused so often. Moot refers to something being unimportant or irrelevant, while mute means to be completely silent. To say something is a mute point would essentially describe a point that has not or cannot be made. 

Moreover, moot and mute appear similar on the surface but have different pronunciations. Moot rhymes with “root,” while mute rhymes with “cute.” Don't mishear moot point as mute point or get confused when other people mistake the phrases. Remember, there is no such thing as a mute point. It's not something you want to say at your next presentation or meeting!

Examples of Moot Points

Moot points can come in the form of statements that are either irrelevant, non-actionable, impractical, vague, or unknowable.

For instance:

Irrelevant Moot Point

A: What movie should we watch?

B:I have a tabby cat. 

Non-Actionable Moot Point

A: What movie should we watch?

B: There will be a new Marvel movie out next summer. 

Impractical Moot Point

A: What movie should we watch?

B: We could make our own feature full-length film today. 

Vague Moot Point

A: What movie should we watch?

B: I think we should watch the movie holistically. 

How To Use Moot Point in a Sentence

Let’s look at a few example sentences that correctly use the term moot point:

  • The nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds are a moot point for those who are allergic to them.
  • The new plug-in works well with the most recent iOS upgrade, which is a moot point if you don't have an iPhone.
  • We need to get out of this situation now, so how we got here is a moot point.
  • I ended up becoming an engineer, so whether or not I would have been a good teacher is a moot point.
  • Trevor would have been a strong addition to our team, but that's a moot point because he turned down the job.

Is It Insulting To Say Someone Made a Moot Point?

The simple answer to this question is: it can be. Remember that declaring something a moot point means that you deem it unimportant or not worth discussing. In a business environment, such as a team meeting or discussion, it's easy to see how calling an idea or opinion of your colleague a moot point could be offensive.

With that said, it isn't always insulting. It really depends on the dynamics in the specific team and relationship. 

If you and your colleagues have a general trust in one another and you’re trying to solve a problem, saying that someone made a moot point and politely explaining why could be a path to finding a solution. Nonetheless, if you’re afraid of offending your colleagues, the safest approach is probably not to call out the moot points of others.

What Are Some Alternatives to a Moot Point?

If you’re looking for ways to express that something is the opposite of a moot point, here are a few antonyms to work into your vocabulary: 

  • Must be decided
  • Proven
  • Relevant
  • Indisputable
  • Inarguable
  • Definitive 

Poised Helps You Communicate More Effectively

Moot points, intentional or not, can distract listeners from your message and hinder your ability to keep your audience engaged. Try to keep your ideas and arguments as relevant as possible, and you’ll hook your team members into your convincing presentation.

Another way to communicate more effectively is to use the Poised AI communication coach. You’ll get real-time feedback, long-term trend analyses, and a personalized plan that moves you forward each day. 

Source:

What Is Moot Court? Why Should Law Students Join It? | ThoughtCo.

Moot Court | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

Differences Between American and British English | ThoughtCo

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