It is raining very lightly, outside (where it usually rains). Come to think of it, it may not be raining at all—it’s just a bit wet, still, from the rain that’s been falling all morning.Inside, a patron at a shop looks out the window and sees a car pull up with its windshield wipers flapping at nearly full speed. “That person’s going to ruin their wiper blades,” says the patron, deeply concerned (evidently) with the well-being of this stranger’s automobile. “How?” says the patron’s companion. “Well, look at them,” he/she/it replies. “They’ve got them on full speed, but there’s practically no water on the windshield at all. They’re just rubbing away on the glass.” “So?” “So?! So that’s how you ruin your wiper blades!” “What? Nonsense. I don’t think having your wiper blades just going up and down hurts them.” “Of course it does. They’re grinding on the glass.” “They’re not ‘grinding’ on anything,” the patron’s companion replies, dismissively. “They’re not meant to be used on dry glass,” says the patron. “That’s bad for them.” At that moment, it began to rain ferociously. “It’s a moot point,” says his/her/its companion. “They’re their wiper blades, not ours.”
The deeply concerned patron’s companion has just demonstrated both of the proper uses of the word moot (pronounced exactly as it appears—“moo” with a “t” on the end).
Although moot is commonly used to mean “irrelevant” or “beside the point”, the word’s original and first meaning is, “debatable.” In the example provided, both definitions apply. Whether or not running the wiper blades in the absence of rain was damaging was both debatable (as evidenced by the debate) and academic—because it began to rain again, the entire discussion was now irrelevant, as the conditions under discussion had ceased to exist.
Technically, neither usage of moot is incorrect. In common conversation, however, only the secondary definition seems to surface very much. It is quite common for someone to describe as moot any debate the outcome of which has no practical bearing on reality—where which point of view or person turns out to be right doesn’t, really, matter. That, as noted above, is only half—and not even the original half—of moot’s meaning. Should you find yourself in an argument where the evidence does not point clearly toward a conclusion on either side of the fence, you have, then, a moot point—one which is subject to further investigation and argument. Whether it is entirely academic, largely irrelevant to the practicalities of the day, is another issue entirely… but if it is, then you could say that it is a moot moot point.
–Mark Jacobs, Jet Fuel Blogger
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mark Jacobs. Mark is a volunteer assistant editor for Jet Fuel Review. He is double-majoring in Physics and Air Traffic Control Management at Lewis, but the left side of his brain is an avid writer. Mark is a junior and works as a ramp traffic controller at O’Hare and at Panera Bread, from which he does not steal dozens of bagels every day. He is also a tutor in Lewis’ Writing Center.