A mute is someone who doesn’t speak, they are mute on the matter, indeed they are mute on every matter.
I mute the television when the ads come on. Likewise, a mute might also mute the television if the phone rang and they wanted to hear what the other person was saying, though in no way could they respond – making their answering the phone somewhat moot.
Adj. Without consequence. Of little significance.
- a moot idea, an idea that has no inherent usefulness;
- a moot desire, that does not necessitate fulfilment;
Or more classically:
- a moot point, that has little bearing on matters.
A mute point, is always incorrect.
It is either the point made by a mute, in which case you’d write “a mute’s point”. This I suppose is in the world of possibility though unlikely in a rhetorical sense.
It is a point that is silenced, in which case you’d write “the point was silenced”. This expression however screams of the misunderstanding of moot. For, rhetorically speaking, points are not silenced so much as they are made moot.
Or course all of this is only half right. Or, at least, made right through common usage in the USA, Australia, and elsewhere.
The verb, to moot, past participle, mooted, its adjective moot, and noun, mootedness, all mean something quite different from the above.
The OED defines it as “subject to debate”.
We can best see this meaning when we say, the point was mooted, meaning the point was raised for discussion or argument. A moot point in this context is in fact a point that is debatable, open for question, and indeed has consequence and significance.
Why the two quiet opposite meanings?
The Free Dictionary describes how a moot was used in legal training to mean a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case, and that over time the meaning of moot shifted from being the making of an argument to the making of a hypothetical argument, or an argument without consequence.
Indeed this not the first time the meaning has shifted. Previously a moot (from the Middle English Mot or mote) meant simply a gathering, or a meeting to discuss and argue. Moot, meaning to raise for debate, stems from this previous meaning, just as moot meaning without consequence stems from the meaning of a legal training moot, being mock and hypothetical.
We see then that context is crucial, so one might say:
The point was invariably moot when God stepped out of the clouds and told us the truth;
I mooted the point as I wanted to hear all sides of the case;
or if one was writing historical horror fiction (set in England),
The moot had gathered these last five years, and though time had blunted their fear, they were still no closer to forgetting the horrors of that day.
A mote is a small flec of dust. It can not be mooted in any sense of the word. Though it can get in the eye of a mute. In which case it is quite annoying.