Posted by: episystechpubs | May 25, 2012

Editor’s Corner: I can’t hear you! It’s irrelevant.

Moot vs. Mute

I’ve received more e-mail about this topic than just about anything else, so let’s get into it. The phrase in question is “moot point.”

In America, moot generally means one of the following: insignificant, debatable, of no effect, irrelevant, pointless, purely academic, or hypothetical.

In Britain, well, it’s a little more specific. From Grammar Girl (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/moot-versus-mute.aspx):

A "moot" was originally a group of lawyers or politicians, and they used items called "moot horns" or "moot bells" to call the assemblies together.

Later, in the 16th century, "moot" started to refer to a group of lawyers or students arguing hypothetical cases. For example, you may have heard of law students participating in something called moot court. When students started doing that, the noun "moot" also started to mean “an argument.” It’s actually used on the title page of the Magna Carta. It reads: With an Almanac and Calendar to know the moots, necessary for all young studiers of the law.

In the 16th century, “moot” also took on a meaning as an adjective that meant an arguable or debatable point, and it still holds on to that meaning in Britain.

For our purposes, when someone in the United States says “it’s a moot point,” I think the indication is that the point is irrelevant—it doesn’t matter.

And then there’s mute. According to our trusty Merriam-Webster Dictionary (http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/unabridged) here are some abbreviated definitions:

· (adjective) characterized by the inability to speak; characterized by absence of speech

· (noun) one that does not speak (also “a device on a musical instrument serving to reduce, soften, or muffle its tone”)

· (transitive verb) to muffle or reduce the sound of; to subdue or tone down (a color)

I imagine a “mute point” is the time in a performance at which the trumpet player sticks a plunger on the end of her instrument.

I haven’t heard much about trumpet or trombone playing in the financial industry, so if you’re going to use the phrase, it’s “a moot point.”

Kara Church | Senior Technical Editor

Symitar, A Jack Henry Company

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123


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