‘Moot Point’ or ‘Mute Point’?

I originally learnt the term ‘moot point’ while working at a library, where we used to put books aside for the law students who were having ‘moot courts’. These are simulated court proceedings where law students can practice their skills. And so I believed that the phrase was ‘moot point’, and it meant a point that was worthwhile, or to be debated. However, recently someone told me that the phrase was actually ‘mute point’ and it was used to describe a point which was now useless or irrelevant. This made sense to me, but I’ve harboured a sneaking suspicion that it’s wrong.

Apparently ‘moot point’ does mean a point that is open to debate or argument. Or at least it did. But in recent years (since 1900ish), with the advent of the student law courts mentioned above, the term has come to mean hypothetical or unimportant. And furthermore, with ‘moot’ being an archaic and underused word it has been replaced by the word ‘mute’. This could be in error but is most likely because the word also suggests that something is unimportant, and thus makes equal sense to the contemporary understanding of a ‘moot point’.

So, in short, maybe it doesn’t matter which word you use if you only mean to describe a point as unimportant. As ‘mute’ and the contemporary understanding of ‘moot’ are similar. However, if you were to use the terms properly you would say that something is a ‘mute point’ if it is unimportant or unhelpful to the argument. Or ‘moot point’ if you think it is a point worth debating. You can also use ‘mute point’ as a pun, for example, if someone put forward a point that they believed was important but was clearly irrelevant. But it’s not really funny, even if you are aware of the two different terms.

(There is also some confusion over whether the US and UK differ on meanings. But I’ve found nothing to suggest that the Americans absolutely only use ‘moot’ as ‘irrelevant’, and the Brits only as ‘debatable’.)

[carried over from ‘anyadditionalinformation’ wordpress blog]

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