Saturday, May 31, 2008

Making a Moot Point: Moot versus Mute

I know that I cannot be the only person to commonly see and hear people refer to another having made a “mute” point. As my community service for today, I would like to clear up the apparent misunderstanding.

A mute thing makes no noise. You could substitute the word “silent” for "mute" in a sentence without changing the meaning of the rest of the words, except insofar as mute generally describes something that should be able to create sound but is not or cannot. That subtle difference explains why we have two distinct words for the condition of not making noise.

Moot, on the other hand, can mean anything from debatable or unsettled to pointless or meaningless. Most commonly, you see it used in the phrase “moot point”. When someone responds that a question is a “moot point”, it indicates to the maker of the point in question that someone thinks that their statement adds nothing to the conversation, or, more commonly and less correctly, that the issue cannot be resolved.

Most often, people use the phrase as shorthand for, “Let's agree to disagree.” Sometimes, folks will use to save face when they feel like they are losing an argument. Now that you know the real definition, you can point out that you are debating the issue because it is moot, then proceed to demolish them with your insight and verbal acuity. No more can your opponents escape the relentless logic of your arguments. Go get 'em, tiger!