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.


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.   

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to She tabled the discussion of a 'moot point'
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today