Now That's What I Call Mootin' Around

Fun with etymology.

It's no surprise to anyone who follows me long on Twitter that I love etymology. 

That's the study of words and their origins, by the way. If you get it mixed up with entomology, the study of bugs, you're in good company... I was in my late teens or early twenties before I had that one nailed down to the point where I never reached for one and grabbed the other.

On the subject of things that begin with "ent", though, it seems as though the word of the day on Twitter is "Moot":

Hair Furor tweeted this out, then later deleted it and replaced it with another tweet that corrected the spelling of Moat but kept the arbitrary capitalization. I've long been curious about how much that actually matters to him, and I guess that's a small indication that the answer is at least a bit.

Anyway, with the word moot being mooted about -- did you know it was a verb, too? -- I thought we could have some fun with etymology.

I referenced the Entmoot up above. This, from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, is a gathering of the tree-people to discuss important matters. Tolkien being a linguist, this gets right at the heart of the word and its origins. "Moot" shares a Germanic root with the modern English word "meet", so the "Entmoot" is a meeting of the Ents. 

Somewhere along the line, it picked up connotations of formality, so not just any chance encounter but an assembly that is called to discuss important matters, as the Ents employed it.

This gave rise to "moot" also meaning discussion or conversation, and the modern tradition of "moot courts", or mock trials in which students of the law practice their arguments.

Because such a contest is one in which the decision reached has no real-world implications, it is through this path that we arrive at the meaning most familiar to modern English speakers: that a moot point is one that is purely hypothetical, and more specifically, that has been rendered moot (redundant or impossible) by some circumstances.

If you and your partner are having a disagreement over how to spend $100 that then gets wiped out by an urgent care visit, your arguments have both been rendered moot. It's now a moot point, which to most of us doesn't even mean a thing only worth discussing in the abstract but a thing that is no longer worth discussing.

When someone in a debate on cable news or social media says something is a moot point, they are trying to end the discussion along those lines, to close off a line of argumentation. 

Isn't it interesting how a word that for most of its etymological timeline had something to do with bringing people together to talk about something important now means at best "this doesn't matter, so let's go wild" as they moot various possibilities and impossibilities around, and at worst "why are we still talking about it?" in response to something they consider irrelevant?

This is language at its messiest, and I love it. Just look at the listing for moot on Dictionary.com: three different parts of speech, and for each one, two nearly opposite definitions.

Adjective: Either open to debate or not worth discussing.

Verb: To raise a subject for discussion, or dismiss it.

Noun: A learned assembly of important people leveraging real power, or anybody arguing about anything, hypothetically.

Isn’t etymology grand?

Maybe the real snake-filled trench was the language we made along the way.

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