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A moot point

February 20, 2013

” ‘I suppose when Edward returns the question will be a moot one anyway; we shall know one way or the other’.” Thus speaks Charlotte Torrington, in Sadie Jones’ novel The Uninvited Guests. In the context the word moot clearly means that the question will be unnecessary, finished, no longer worth discussing. That’s the precise opposite of the meaning I always knew. A moot point is one that hasn’t been settled, one that people are still arguing about. I’ve always thought it must have something to do with the Anglo-Saxon word Moot, meaning a parliament. A moot is where people meet, and talk. And the things they talk about are moot points.

Sadie Jones’ very different use of the word made me curious, so I googled the word moot and came upon an article by Maeve Maddox, in which she says she’s only just found out the old meaning (ie my meaning). The Sadie Jones meaning, according to which a moot question is a closed question, was the only one she knew, and is apparently the accepted meaning in American English. She says she’s going to stop using it altogether now, as she writes for an international audience and doesn’t want to confuse anyone.

Sadie Jones is a British author, so the new meaning has now crossed the Atlantic, and is probably irresistible. Obviously, words are always changing their meanings, but it is odd when they turn into their opposites. Should I carry on using it in the old sense? Hmm. That’s a moot question.

PS My review of the Sadie Jones novel will appear in the Independent on Sunday on 3 March. 

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