Moot > mute (point) eggcorn redux

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Sun Aug 30 16:47:22 UTC 2009

We've discussed the _moot_ (point) > _mute_ (point) eggcorn here before,
and it's in the database too. But something I hadn't noticed before was its
appearance not merely in print but actually in the speech of someone whose
accent makes a difference between _moot_ and _mute_.

Accents with glide-deletion might pronounce both words /mu:t/ (though
deletion is much less common after labials than after, say, dorsals). In
Standard Southern British English, though, there's no glide-deletion of /j/
between any consonant and /u/ (so _impute_ > /impju:t/, _tube_ > /tju:b/,
_cube_ > /kju:b/, etc). But I've just heard a barrister, a speaker of this
dialect, on the TV referring to 'a /mju:t/ point'. He meant what the
standard idiom refers to as a _moot point_, but clearly used a glide. Being
a lawyer, too, he would have been familiar with the word 'moot', which has
various legally-connected uses (some obsolete, but at least one current, in
the meaning 'mock trial').

So, was the speaker merely getting carried away with his rhetoric and thus
using the wrong word as a one-off, or does this genuinely mark a
progression of the eggcorn into a more standard register - a stage in
language change? The speaker was Hugo Charlton, a highly-placed criminal
lawyer in London, and the Law Officer and Chairman of the Policy Committee
of the (UK) Green Party. He was speaking in a televised debate under the
title 'Should we break the law to save the planet?' on the BBC debate
programme _The Big Questions_:

(As of right now, the evening of Sunday 30 August 2009, today's programme
isn't yet available online, but apparently it 'soon' will be. When
programmes get on the website, they're usually available until the next one
is broadcast, which will be next Sunday morning.)

Again, someone who makes a large part of his living making speeches in the
courtroom ought not to have his rhetoric affected by the emotion of a
subject. It looks to me, then, as if /mju:t/ for _moot_ is actually
progressing into the language.


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
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