Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Moot point or mute point?

with 7 comments

Oscar Poster 2004
Image by NMCIL ortiz domney via Flickr

The correct spelling of ‘moot point’ is not a moot point. ‘Moot point’ means ‘subject to debate, dispute or uncertainty’ (see Oxford Dictionaries). But you’ll see it spelt as ‘mute point’ all over the place. Here are a few examples:

So I would say an additional disability is a mute point. (From a BBC online transcript of a radio programme)

…but whether he will be in the starting line-up against the world champions is a mute point. (From a BBC online sports report)

It’s a mute point (Headline for a book review in the UK newspaper, The Observer)

However,  the Oscar for correct spelling goes to the UK newspaper, the Telegraph:

“I’d love to just think of myself as a film-maker, and I long for the day when a modifier can be a moot point,” she said of being a trailblazer for women directors.

With many thanks to Invisible Mikey who gave me the idea for this post.

More commonly confused words and phrases

Spelling tips and tricks

Gratuitous modifiers or the lady bus driver

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7 Responses

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  1. LOL. Sometimes I wish the politicians’ moot points were mute points.

    Dai

    11/03/2010 at 11:23 am

  2. I recall when the Chair of our dep’t said “mute point” when she meant “moot point”; who knew she was in such august company?

    Maggie Manning

    11/03/2010 at 2:00 pm

  3. It’s used here much more to mean “pointless,” “purely academic,” or “without practical consequence.” If you can’t afford a trip to Miami, it’s a moot point that the current weather is fine. Garner says this is the predominant sense in AmE; in BrE, the classic sense holds sway but is slowly eroding.

    We also use “moot” as a verb in the same way, meaning to render pointless or hypothetical: “The fact that she wouldn’t go if you asked her moots the issue, doesn’t it?”

    The sense of “debatable” survives in AmE in the practice of “moot court” (a teaching method in which young law students debate arcane points before pretend judges).

    Michael Farrell

    11/03/2010 at 3:26 pm

    • Yes, in the Oxford Dictionary of English the American meaning is given as “having little or no practical relevance, as in The whole matter is becoming increasingly moot“.

      Deborah

      11/03/2010 at 3:31 pm

  4. Your quote from the woman director is from Kathryn Bigelow, right? She’s using “moot point” in the US way.

    Michael Farrell

    11/03/2010 at 3:55 pm


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