Moot > mute (point) eggcorn redux

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Aug 30 17:40:03 UTC 2009

At 5:47 PM +0100 8/30/09, Damien Hall wrote:
>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').
I was just watching a TV show in which the characters were arguing
about whether it's a "moot" point or a "mute" point, with the
phonological distinction clearly made.  But what I'm curious about is
not the shift in the understanding of this particular item (I think
this one is an eggcorn in that it's likely to arise for those who
don't have "moot" in their vocabulary at all, essentially the point
Damien raised in his subsequent message), but in the isogloss(es) to
which Damien refers above.

I'm a consistent glide-deleter myself, but only for coronals.  Thus,
I was born in "Noo York" (no, not Noo Yawk), and in the morning my
grass is covered with [du;], not [dyu:], but I would never conflate
the "mew" of the cat with the "moo" of a cow, and I'm unaware of any
speakers who do.  Any church I've been in has had "pews" with glides,
never "poos", and "beauty" and "booty" are not homophones, nor are
"feud" and "food" with the labiovelar. Similarly with dorsals: the
letter after p is [kyu:], not [ku:].  An attractive person or thing
may be [kyut], but not (a) [kut].  Toob (for "tube") si, "koob" (for
"cube") no.

And again, I'm unfamiliar with dialects that do things
differently--not counting, of course, those like Damian's (in the UK
and elsewhere) that preserve the do/dew or pronounce "Tuesday" with a
glide.  So who is it exactly that deletes the [y] after labials,
labiovelars, or dorsals?


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