She tabled the discussion of a 'moot point'

In the U.S., labeling something a 'moot point' means it's no longer worth discussing. In England, however, that means it's open to further debate.

Staff

If a suggestion was mooted, what happened to it? What about if it’s tabled? These are contronyms – words with opposite meanings – in American and British English, and spread confusion wherever they travel. 

In the United States, we most often use moot as an adjective, as part of the phrase moot point. Such a point is “deprived of practical significance, made abstract or purely academic,” according to Merriam-Webster. If you have a Ph.D. in the humanities and want to teach at the university level, you have to go where you get a job – where you’d like to live is a moot point. In Britain, though, moot means “open to question, debatable.” If your spouse says that the question of whether to move to London is “moot,” you’ll need to talk about it, unless he or she is American, in which case you don’t. 

Things get even more confusing when moot is used as a verb. If an American moots the idea of moving to California, she’s brought it up for discussion, not dismissed it as irrelevant. Moot means “to raise or bring forward (a point, question, candidate, etc.)” in the U.S., and in Britain. Or at least it used to. This sense is becoming less common in American English, according to “Garner’s Modern English Usage” by Bryan Garner, as the verb comes to share the American adjective’s meaning. Especially in the U.S. legal system, moot can mean “to render ... of no practical significance,” as in “the plaintiff died and mooted his case.”

Moot sounds silly, but it originally represented a solemn thing. In Old English, a moot (or mot, or gemot) was a judicial or legislative assembly. The witenagemot (the “moot” of wise men), for example, was the parliament of Anglo-Saxon England. And just like parliament (from the French parler, “to talk”), moots involved “argument, disputation; discussion,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Lawyers took the word over in the 16th century, and it came to refer to the discussion of a hypothetical case for law students’ practice. British and American law students still participate in moot courts, perhaps aided by books like Oxford University Press’ “How to Moot: A Student Guide to Mooting.” Here we can see how the British and American senses diverged. Such a discussion is of “no practical significance,” and that’s the sense American English seems to prefer, whether using moot as an adjective or (increasingly) as a verb. 

In a similar fashion, a British person who tables an issue will “place [it] on the agenda”; an American who tables that same issue has taken it out of consideration, indefinitely. Why does to table mean put it “on the table” to the British and take it “off the table” to Americans? That’s a moot point, I guess.   

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