Saying “it doesn’t matter” or “it matters” is a common expression in everyday English. For scholarly work, I want to “keep using that word“, while ensuring it means what I want it to mean.
The Oxford English Dictionary (third edition, March 2001) has three entries for “matter”. The first two entries for a noun. The third entry is for “matter” as a verb. From that, the first two definitions aren’t what I’m looking for.
I. Senses relating to physical matter or substance.
II. Senses relating to material content.
The third definition of interest, as a verb, dates back into the 1500s.
III. Senses relating to significance or import.
3.intransitive. To be of importance; to signify. Usually in interrogative and negative contexts.
a. With non-referential it as subject or impersonal with adverbial what, and with complementary subordinate clause. Also with clause as subject. (In quot. 1817 used transitively with indirect object.)
1591 H. Savile tr. Tacitus Ende of Nero: Fower Bks. Hist. iv. 202 Sosianus and Sagitta were men vile and of no account, neither mattered it where they liued. [….]
1630 Bp. J. Hall Occas. Medit. §xiii It matters not, O God, how I am vexed here below a while.
1651 T. Hobbes Philos. Rudim. vii. 122 Nor matters it, that he hath perhaps made any promise to assemble his Subjects on some certain times. [….]
1878 Ld. Tennyson Revenge xi We die—does it matter when? [….]
1908 L. M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables xii. 119 If she doesn’t like you it won’t matter how much Diana does.1920
D. H. Lawrence Women in Love xxx. 511 Does it matter, whether I drink white wine this evening, or whether I drink nothing? [….]
b. Without complementary clause.
1567 T. Drant tr. Horace Arte of Poetrie sig. Bij I might or this haue written noble geare But that from collor, I am purgd at springe tyme euery yeare. It matters not. [….]
1846 C. Dickens Dombey & Son (1848) iii. 23 ‘Miss Florence was afraid of interrupting, Sir,..’ said Richards. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ returned Mr. Dombey. […]
c. With a thing (material or immaterial) as subject.
c1683 Wodrow MS in C. K. Sharpe Hist. Acct. Belief Witchcraft Scotl. 157 To this answered, ‘That matters not tho’ it were the night before the morn, if they go to heaven.’ [….]
1935 G. Greene in Spectator 9 Aug. 222/2 What matters is the witty dialogue, the quick intelligent acting of Mr. Tone and Miss Merkel. [….]
d. Of a person: to be important, have influence.
1848 W. M. Thackeray Vanity Fair lxiv. 589 ‘Oh, it was Madame de Belladonna, was it?’ Becky said… ‘No—she does not matter—she is always jealous.’
1909 H. W. C. Newte Sparrows xl. 505 With your appearance and talents you should be a great social success with people who matter. [….]