moth·​ball | \ ˈmȯth-ˌbȯl How to pronounce mothball (audio) \

Definition of mothball

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a ball made formerly of camphor but now often of naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene and used to keep moths from clothing
2 mothballs plural : a condition of protective storage put the ships in mothballs after the war also : a state of having been rejected for further use or dismissed from further consideration


mothballed; mothballing; mothballs

Definition of mothball (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to deactivate (something, such as a ship) and prevent deterioration chiefly by dehumidification
2 : to withdraw from use or service and keep in reserve : put aside

Examples of mothball in a Sentence


Many navy ships were mothballed after the war.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Myth: Lime, sulfur, mothballs and commercial snake repellents will keep snakes away. Shelia Poole, ajc, "7 most common myths about snakes," 5 June 2018 In one message, Ms. Garver asked SpaceX’s president to update her about how interested SpaceX was in using the pad, then in mothballs. Andy Pasztor, WSJ, "Elon Musk’s Right-Hand Woman Is Steadying Force at SpaceX," 30 Sep. 2018 Unfortunately, the mere prospect of the search is enough to evoke the smell of mothballs. Zoe Settle, ELLE Decor, "Top Sources for Vintage Textiles," 15 May 2011 Applied Iguana Rid and placed mothballs and sprinkled a concoction of garlic, lemon juice and chili powder (only worked temporarily). Linda Robertson, miamiherald, "South Florida is suffering from an iguana infestation. A solution? Think barbecue.," 11 July 2018 Heck, Jack Nicholson might even come out of mothballs at 81. Greg Cote, miamiherald, "LeBron James has only 1 choice if he wants to meet the challenge of his legacy head-on," 30 June 2018 One is a bond that resembles a mothball, called aromatic carbon, while the other resembles grease and is called aliphatic. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "The Milky Way Is Full of Potentially Toxic "Space Grease"," 28 June 2018 Researchers believe that about half of the carbon remains in its pure form while the rest of it binds with hydrogen, creating either greasy aliphatic carbon or gaseous naphthalene, the stuff used in mothballs. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Our Galaxy Is Really Greasy and Smells Like Moth Balls," 28 June 2018 Jeff Green had 16 points and Tristan Thompson - who, as recently as a week ago, was in mothballs at the end of Cleveland's bench - chipped in 14 points and 12 rebounds, including nine offensive boards, in 26 minutes. Tim Bontemps,, "Dragging these flawed Cavs to the NBA Finals would be LeBron James' most remarkable feat," 2 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The world’s leading steel-producing country is mothballing more than 100 old, inefficient furnaces that helped build its economic boom, seeking to reduce overcapacity and improve air quality. Rhiannon Hoyle, WSJ, "China’s Cleanup Efforts Create Boom for South African Miner," 4 Aug. 2018 In 2009, as the Israelis leapt ahead with the technology, the Pentagon mothballed a multibillion-dollar Army program known as the Future Combat Systems, which featured active armor. Ben Kesling, WSJ, "Powerful Antitank Missiles Put U.S. Forces in Middle East at Risk," 2 Jan. 2019 President Obama himself touted atomic energy as necessary to fight global warming, yet U.S. nuclear plants are being mothballed because they are excluded from the subsidies available to wind and solar. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "Will 2019 See Climate Maturity?," 24 Dec. 2018 DeLuccie said one of the positions contemplated in the cuts was overseeing the tear-down of the Missouri City Power Plant, a facility IPL mothballed. Steve Vockrodt And Mike Hendricks, kansascity, "Acting director of Independence Power & Light to resign after fractious city meeting," 27 June 2018 But Malaysia’s probe, led by an anticorruption commission, was mothballed, and overseas investigators complained that Malaysia dragged its feet in assisting them. Yantoultra Ngui, WSJ, "Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Fallen Leader, Is Arrested and Charged in 1MDB Scandal," 4 July 2018 Smart cities mothball such treasures and play for time. Blair Kamin,, "Evanston plan to demolish Harley Clarke mansion: Public vision or hidden agendas?," 13 July 2018 Many communities have removed Confederate statues from public parks and mothballed them or moved them to cemeteries. Stephen Hudak,, "Confederate general statue headed to Lake County museum stirs passions, opens old wounds," 29 June 2018 While making a furniture run, for example, with a friend — Danny had mothballed a bedroom set at his mother’s house and needed a hand getting it into his truck. Longreads, "The Cold War and its Fallout," 16 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mothball.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of mothball


1892, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1926, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Dictionary Entries near mothball





mothball fleet

moth bean

moth borer

Statistics for mothball

Last Updated

15 Feb 2019

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Time Traveler for mothball

The first known use of mothball was in 1892

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English Language Learners Definition of mothball

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a small ball that contains a strong-smelling chemical and that is used to keep moths away from stored clothing
used in phrases like in/into mothballs and out of mothballs to describe something that is stored without being used for a long time sometimes used to describe a person (such as a performer) who has not been seen for a long time



English Language Learners Definition of mothball (Entry 2 of 2)

: to stop using (something) while keeping it to be possibly used in the future

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More from Merriam-Webster on mothball

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with mothball

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for mothball

Spanish Central: Translation of mothball

Nglish: Translation of mothball for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of mothball for Arabic Speakers

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