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Moot and Mute

Commonly Confused Words

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The adjective moot refers to something that is debatable or of no practical importance. The adjective mute means unspoken or unable to speak.

Examples:

  • The court ruled on Thursday that the appeal was moot because the hostile offer had been withdrawn.

  • Several factors help to make sense of Russia's mute response to the crisis.

Usage Notes:

  • "A moot point was classically seen as one that is arguable. A moot case was a hypothetical case proposed for discussion in a 'moot' of law students (i.e., the word was once a noun). In U.S. law schools, students practice arguing hypothetical cases before appellate courts in moot court.

    "From that sense of moot derived the extended sense 'of no practical importance; hypothetical; academic.' This shift in meaning occurred about 1900 <because the question has already become moot, we need not decide it.> Today, in American English, that is the predominant sense of moot Theodore M. Bernstein and other writers have called this sense of the word incorrect, but it is now a fait accompli, especially in the set phrase moot point. To use moot in the sense 'open to argument' in modern American English is to create an ambiguity and to confuse readers. In British English, the transformation in sense has been slower, and moot in its older sense retains vitality."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, Oxford University Press, 2003)


  • "Moot in British English means arguable, doubtful, or open to debate. Americans often use it to mean hypothetical or academic, i.e. of no practical significance."
    (The Economist Style Guide, Profile Books, 2005)

Practice:
(a) Because medical bills ate up his estate, the inheritance issue became a _____ point.

(b) She has been _____ since suffering the trauma of losing her parents.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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