Moot makes me sad. Not because it’s a sad word, but because moot lives a sad life. It’s a role player in the game of words, sitting on the bench for vast stretches, patiently waiting for the sentence or statement where it can succinctly shine. Finally, the perfect opportunity arises, moot prepares to step in and carry the day, only to have the author squander the opportunity by writing or saying, “the point is mute.” Mute? No. Mute means to silence, or to be unable to speak. Points are not mute.

There’s another layer to the sadness — moot was once defined as a point that is open for argument, but generations of misuse have led the OED to define its “North American use” (the phrase reads like an indictment of our cavalier approach to linguistic accuracy) as “having no practical significance.” That’s what Rick Springfield meant when he sang, in regard to Jesse’s girl, “I want to tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot.” Had he opted for the original meaning, there might have been room for debate about the value of professing his affections. Instead, Rick resigns himself to clinging to empty wishes. Just as well, because if Jessie’s girl is anything like me, she would have said, “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me irregardless of the risk, mister soap star?”

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