“Moot Point” vs. “Mute Point”

Often in print (or on Facebook) you will see people refer to a mute point, when they really mean a moot point. This common grammar mistake is referred to as a malapropism (the use of the wrong word in a common idiom), and is also an eggcorn (similar to free reign vs.free rein).

The word moot has caused lots of confusion over the years. Originally, a moot argument described any argument that was debatable — for which there was no clear answer — and students of debates would discuss such arguments in a moot. Over the years, since such discussions were generally about unsolvable problems and not actually deciding anything, the word moot slowly evolved to its modern usage to describe a discussion that is irrelevant.

So, the word moot now means the opposite of what it originally meant, and it’s too late to fix it. If you try to use the word moot in its original sense, you’ll simply confuse people. As a result, it’s probably just best to avoid using the word altogether.

However, you can’t avoid running across the common usage today: moot point refers to a point of discussion that has been made irrelevant (the time for decision is already past, or any decision on the point would be overridden by some other factor).

A “mute point” is just an understandable mistake — since moot and mute are homophones, or at least almost homophones, one who doesn’t know the word moot may replace it with mute. This mistake is understandable, since if the point were mute, then it would be silent, or of low volume (like a muted trumpet), and so it makes at least a little bit of sense.

A mistake like this is called an eggcornOther examples of eggcorns: “free reign” for “free rein”, “shoe-in” for “shoo-in”, “peak my interest” for “pique my interest”, and so on. Just watch your Facebook wall and you’ll see them flow past every day. These are good examples of errors that, once seen, cannot be “unseen” for the rest of your life.

Knowing proper grammatical style can help you in daily life, in your professional life, and on the SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and GRE. If you are planning to take any of these tests, contact Bobby Hood Test Prep for more information!


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