You may have heard coworkers or acquaintances refer to an inconsequential or irrelevant point as a moot point, or maybe you’ve heard mute point instead. Fans of the TV show Friends may have heard a third variation: moo point (because, according to Joey, a cow’s opinion doesn’t matter). But which expression is correct, and what exactly does it mean?
The correct phrase is moot point. A moot point can be either an issue open for debate, or a matter of no practical value or importance because it’s hypothetical. The latter is more common in modern American English. The term comes from British law where it describes a hypothetical point of discussion used as teaching exercise for law students. This finds its roots in an early noun sense of moot: “an assembly of the people in early England exercising political, administrative, and judicial powers.”
The word mute means “silent; refraining from speech or utterance,” and the pairing mute point has no canonized meaning in standard English. However, it’s easy to imagine how this mistake might make sense in some contexts, and perhaps that’s why it’s so frequently confused with moot point. In a book of wordplay called Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century, Liesl Schillinger humorously defines a mute point as follows: “When somebody in a group makes a good suggestion, but somehow nobody hears it.” In a similar vein, Urban Dictionary defines it as “addressing the participants of a conference call while your phone is on mute.”
As for moo point, Joey may be waiting until the cows come home for this creative coinage to catch on.
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