I’m sure it has happened to the best of us: You’re in the middle of a heated discussion, or got your interpreting groove on, then suddenly there it is: an idiom pops into your head, you think, Perfect! I’ll use that! and use it…. incorrectly?!
Christina DesMarais has made a list of the 20 idioms most commonly used incorrectly over at inc.com. Any of them sound familiar?
Perhaps not having grown up in an English-speaking country and always questioning where a certain phrase came from has saved me from messing up most of these idioms, however – I admit it freely -, there is one I said incorrectly for a long time, until a friend almost died laughing when he heard what I really said. And it’s not even on the list! Okay, here it is:
What I wanted to say was, That’s a moot point. What I actually said was, That’s a mute point.
While it sort of gets the point across (a point that can’t or doesn’t speak is, after all, irrelevant or not important), the definition of the correct term on dictionary.com describes its origin and makes it oh-so-clear:
A debatable question, an issue open to argument; also, an irrelevant question, a matter of no importance. For example, Whether Shakespeare actually wrote the poem remains a moot point among critics, or It’s a moot point whether the chicken or the egg came first. This term originated in British law where it described a point for discussion in a moot, or assembly, of law students. By the early 1700s it was being used more loosely in the present sense.
moot point. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Houghton Mifflin Company. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/moot point (accessed: September 10, 2015)
So, which idioms are you using incorrectly?
By the way, dictionary.com also has an interesting and funny entry on Moot point vs. mute point (and maybe even moo point).