Muting the Moot Points


Some trends drive this editor crazy. I love the malleability of the English language—how it grows, shifts, changes, and absorbs. But mistakes perpetuated are still mistakes. Our case in point for today is the difference between the words mute and moot.

Now, I do understand why there is some confusion. Moot is one of those archaic words with roughly one main use, and it also happens to have similarities with mute. This closeness has given rise to the following type of malapropism:

Since he dropped out of the race, his fitness for the office is a mute point. [Please, please, please don’t use.]

This, however, is incorrect. Why? Let’s look at the definitions.

  • moot (müt): deprived of real significance, purely academic (the other meanings are rarely used)
  • mute (myüt): remaining silent, unable to make sound

If an argument has lost bearing because one of the main factors has changed or been removed, then the significance of that argument is gone. We can dream up scenarios of what could have been, but the point is no longer valid in actual fact. For this reason, the argument is now moot.

Here’s the bottom line: Most of the time, people mean that something is a moot point or a moot argument. If the argument were mute, they wouldn’t have heard it anyway.

[Update: A friend pointed out that some may also refer to these as “moo points” (a cow’s point of view).]

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