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Distinctions: ‘Moot’ and ‘Mute’

Posted by CW64 on December 18, 2012

In my education and experience as a writer and editor, I have noticed many misuses of words, especially common words. Such erroneous practices have become prevalent in the writing community and continue to stand out in my mind as something both serious and disturbing. For that reason, I have decided to write an ongoing series of articles, called simply “Distinctions,” which will explain the differences between the featured terms and how they are or should be used in writing. At the end of each article, I will provide either a quiz or set of exercises for readers to test their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, this ongoing effort will allow said readers to gain something to help them be better writers.

In this post, I focus on “moot” and “mute,” two words that are different but quite often confusing to and misused by a lot of people, including writers.

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Moot

“Moot” serves as an adjective, verb and noun, and in all parts of speech renders similar meaning and usages. (See here)

Adjective

As an adjective, “moot’ refers to a state of being questionable, doubtful or debatable. In terms of academia, the word denotes something impractical or theoretical rather than factual or useful.

Examples:

The issue of whether or not Matt was a murderer became moot after the witness testified that he was with her during the commission of the crime.
Many people today say that print books have become moot in the age of the internet

In the first instance, “moot” shows how Matt’s legal case is questionable in light of the witness’ testimony. In the second, the word is used as a means of indicating how many people now believe print books are no longer practical or necessary since publications occur via the internet.

Verb (transitive)

As a verb, “moot” serves two purposes: (1) introducing a topic for discussion and (2) renders something theoretical or academic for the sake of considering possibilities. In all cases, this verb is transitive (requires an object).

Examples:

Eli mooted the subject of divorce more for venting over his own than for the sake of eliciting the opinions of others.
Jenny mooted her concern over her mother’s abuse towards her to see how her cousins and close friends would react.

Eli introduces a topic more for the sake of getting it out of his system, although he is sure it will stir up a discussion that is likely to provide some comfort. Here, the object of the verb is “the subject of divorce” because that is what was mooted. Jenny, however, raises an issue that is more of conjecture or personal belief than fact for the sake of gauging the reaction of those around her. The belief she has might be based on reality, depending on the others’ reactions, but that is not known yet. The noun clause “her concern over her mother’s abuse towards her” is the object here because it is what she mooted.

Noun

As a noun, “moot” denotes the subject or issue to be discussed. The word can represent both the subject and the verb. “He mooted the moot” might sound strange, but is it grammatically correct? At this point, the conclusion is moot.

Examples:

The moot on rape didn’t go over very well at the last meeting; it erupted into an all-out argument that disturbed the people in the next room.
Jerry brought up the moot regarding funding for the homeless, an idea to which all others unanimously agreed would be a wonderful and necessary venture to take.

In these instances, “moot” fits as both the subject and object of a sentence. In the first, the word serves as the subject with “on rape” providing clarification as to (1) the nature of the moot at hand and (2) why the moot would stir up an argument. Rape is an extremely sensitive and controversial issue. As an object, “moot” signifies Jerry’s action, with “regarding funding” offering the same two functions it does as the subject. In this way, “moot” is consistent when taking on the role of a noun.

Mute

“Mute” is also an adjective, verb and noun, so it works in the same way as “moot,” only that it carries a different meaning. (See here)

Adjective

“Mute,” as an adjective, has to do with the inability to produce sound, especially verbal utterances. The word is synonymous with “silent’ in that context.

Examples:

Harry Clemens was a mute since birth; he couldn’t utter a word, but he could write very well.
The CD player suddenly went mute as lightening struck; apparently, the electrical lines were hit.

The word “mute” works as a descriptive modifier in both examples: sentence 1 acknowledges Harry Clemens as a mute, which is a person who cannot speak; sentence 2 uses “mute” to label a CD player without sound. These examples also have another important feature: to illustrate how noun functions as an adjective by describing their respective subjects (see ‘noun’ below).

Verb (transitive)

When used as a transitive verb (requiring an object), “mute” simply refers to the act of muffling or removing the sound from someone or something.(i.e. silencing).

Examples:

Sarah muted the sound of her stereo when she realized it was keeping everyone in the house awake.
The crowd’s cheering at the concert was muted to a hush as the musicians took a break between sets.

The difference between verb use here is that the former example uses “mute” as a preterit (a simple past tense), while the second forms it as a past participle (an ‘-ed’ verb that follows an auxiliary “was” or “were” or “have/had”). Sarah assumes the role of the actor, whereas the cheering—the object of the preterit in an active sentence—is that which takes on the action to descriptively show how the sound transformed. This sentence also shows how a verb can simultaneously work as an adjective with the use of auxiliaries.

Noun

“Mute” as a noun has several references. In summation, however, a mute is anything that produces no sounds whatsoever. This can be a person or a thing. A person, as a mute, is unable to speak, usually from birth. In the case of a thing, this also includes anything that silences something else, such as a sordino, which is a mechanical apparatus that stifles or muffles the sound of musical instruments.

Examples:

Harry Clemens was mute since birth, although he could write wonderfully.
The mute stood before the judge waiting for his sentence after being found guilty.

As illustrated in the adjective form above, Harry is a mute. The noun here describes him, but it also identifies him in distinctive fashion as a person incapable of speech. The second instance of the noun is a special application: a “mute” is also a term for a person who remains silent during court proceedings (unless otherwise addressed), while the legal officials take the floor to discuss said mute’s case. As can be seen, “mute” can and quite often does function as an adjective and a noun at the same time.

Summary:

Moot: debatable, questionable; impractical/theoretical. (intellectual)
Mute: to silence, to be silenced; someone/something incapable of producing sound. (physical)

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Quiz:

1) Choose the right word:

moot, mute

• Argumentative ______________________________
• Cessation __________________________________
• Conjecture _________________________________
• Disagreement _______________________________
• Doubtful ___________________________________
• Erase ______________________________________
• Fade_______________________________________
• Gag _______________________________________
• Hush ______________________________________
• Speculative _________________________________
• Uncertain __________________________________
• Wane ______________________________________

2) True or False:

• “The issue is mute;” the judge said emphatically, “The evidence is conclusive in this case.”
• When the music went moot, Nick thought he suddenly went deaf.
• The moot went on for hours without a resolution.
• Jan muted the TV when the phone rang.

3) Fill in the blanks:

moot, mute, both

• Michael was indeed a _____________since birth, but he learned how to write to compensate this condition; his extraordinary writing skills serve to ___________ the skepticism of anyone one who has ever doubted his abilities.

• What kind of ______________ would create a controversy so heavy that ongoing debates would turn into bouts of mud-slinging?

• Steve began to _____________his case with a voice so full of charm that he captured everybody’s attention right away.

• The situation is _____________; the entire place was quiet, so no one was there.

• Terence remained ____________ as the judge spoke about the specific details of his case and the charges incurred. Hearing such a ___________ would have been discouraging for anyone in that position.

• As the painter gazed upon his canvas, she noticed the green __________ the blue underneath, resulting in a softer hue, which is what she wanted.

• The deaf man was _____________ as well, but he was still able to form words with his lips.

• Many ghost stories are so farfetched they are ____________ as far as credibility is concerned; yet many mysteries of the paranormal still remain unsolved.

• Many topics that are _____________ in their conclusions are usually the most intriguing and worth the debate, just for the sake of intellectual stimulation.

• To _____________ voices simply because they speak undesirable opinions is unconstitutional, but many people do it all the time, even within the arenas of government and law enforcement.

• Ideals and dreams are quite often _______________ as far as the real world is concerned.

• Sometimes book knowledge is ______________ when it comes to actual survival, including any book that covers a ______________ on how to survive.

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7 Responses to “Distinctions: ‘Moot’ and ‘Mute’”

  1. constantly i used to read smaller posts which as well clear
    their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading
    at this time.

  2. You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation
    however I in finding this matter to be actually one thing which
    I think I’d by no means understand. It kind of feels too complex and extremely extensive for me. I’m
    looking forward in your next publish, I’ll try to get the dangle of it!

    • CW64 said

      Hello Prolifica,

      Thank you for commenting. Yes, the subject does tend to get a bit complex and extensive when you delve deep into it. Sometimes that’s unavoidable. As you can see, however, my basic definitions are brief and expressed in a simple fashion. Perhaps you are referring to the AMOUNT of information presented when you use the words “complex” and “extensive”? It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t include all possible and existing meanings and uses of a word; if I left out anything important, the article would be incomplete and therefore ineffective.

      Perhaps I can tighten my focus for the articles?

      Please feel free to offer suggestions or express concerns at any time. That will help me produce better posts in the future.

      Sincerely,
      CW64

  3. Hey there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give
    a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics?
    Thanks!

  4. Princess said

    Hi this is kinda of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • CW64 said

      Hi Princess.

      Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. HTML is quite easy. Generally, you use tags. The first, which goes before the selected word or phrase, opens the action; the second, which goes after the selected word or phrase, closes the action. There is more than that, of course, but that serves as the basic idea.

      You can find easy-to-understand tutorials by googling “HTML tutorials” or something related like “HTML lessons” or “HTML basics” to find sites that provide the information you seek. There are many great sites out there. When I have the chance, I will post a few links for you, so please keep checking back.

      As for blogs, many do provide HTML capabilities. The set up is pretty simple to follow. You’ll catch on really fast.

      In fact, I plan on providing a few posts discussing HTML in the near-future, so keep an eye open for them.

      Good luck with your blog. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask at any time.

      CW64

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