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

Verb Many navy ships were mothballed after the war.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Transaero went bankrupt in 2015, stranding the planes without a buyer, and the two aircraft ended up in mothballs in the Mojave Desert. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "The Next-Gen Air Force One Is Already Over Budget," 30 Apr. 2020 Today, the mothball fleet is maintained at Bremerton, Washington; Philadelphia, and Pearl Harbor. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "The U.S. Navy Won’t Bring Back Mothballed Ships to Boost the Fleet," 21 Feb. 2019 What about preventing the disease by hanging mothballs around your neck? Jeffrey Kluger, Time, "What the History of Polio Can Teach Us About COVID-19," 5 May 2020 Mercifully, their 0-7 shootout record remains in mothballs. Matt Porter,, "Bruins start Western Swing on right note with David Pastrnak’s winning OT goal in Edmonton," 20 Feb. 2020 Later, the family saw mothballs had been put in place. Sig Christenson,, "Family fled sewage-contaminated house on San Antonio base," 24 Nov. 2019 In 2017, Charlie Morton finished Game 7 of the World Series with Ken Giles all but put on mothballs in October. Alex Speier,, "Red Sox in no position for deadline blockbuster," 30 July 2019 While standing outside, an officer noticed the smell of decay and saw packets of mothballs at the doors., "MARINETTE, Wis. — A 60-year-old Wisconsin woman has been charged with hiding her mother’s corpse after authorities say she didn’t report the death for up to four months while living off her mom’s income.," 25 Sep. 2019 George retains only one memory of his childhood religion: the smell of mothballs emanating from the congregation’s Sunday best. The Economist, "Grave hopping with Gilbert & George," 15 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The creepy clown trend may have been a convenient excuse for Mickey D’s to mothball the mascot, but the chain had plenty of other reasons, too: complaints that Ronald’s appeal to kids only contributed to childhood obesity. Washington Post, "Burger King’s latest dig at McDonald’s: Creepy clowns to haunt your dreams," 28 Oct. 2020 This week, 7-Eleven opened a pop-up store in Children’s Medical Center Dallas’ Moore Auditorium, a large space for meetings indefinitely mothballed in this time of social distancing. Maria Halkias, Dallas News, "7-Eleven pop-up opens in Children’s Medical Center Dallas as convenience to workers and families," 23 Apr. 2020 Some believe the ruling party doesn’t really want the laws approved, and might mothball them by referring them to committee for further work. Vanessa Gera,, "Polish government divided on ‘Draconian’ abortion, sex education bills," 15 Apr. 2020 Among the other ships being mothballed in Southland waters are three high-end cruise liners that are docked or anchored off San Diego: Regent Seven Seas Splendor, and Celebrity Cruises’ Eclipse and Millenium. Rosemary Mcclure, Los Angeles Times, "Amid coronavirus, cruise ships idle away off SoCal coast," 6 Apr. 2020 Just over three weeks later, the hotel company would strip the business down to its core, furloughing employees, cutting expenses, mothballing capital expenditures and suspending its dividend and buyback plan. Paul Vigna, WSJ, "If Companies Aren’t Buying Their Own Stock, Who Is?," 5 Apr. 2020 Equipment including stretchers and cabinets that had been reserved or mothballed was located, inspected, cleaned and rolled into place. Marc Lester, Anchorage Daily News, "This emergency management specialist has spent years planning for a moment like this. Here’s how an Anchorage hospital is preparing for COVID-19.," 3 Apr. 2020 Armies shrank, tanks were mothballed and money for defence dried up. The Economist, "Daily chart Western European armies have shrunk dramatically," 2 Mar. 2020 While some ships could spring back into service quickly, others may be mothballed for months. Fran Golden, Travel + Leisure, "What Will It Take to Get Cruises Sailing Again?," 7 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for mothball

Time Traveler

The first known use of mothball was in 1892

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Statistics for mothball

Cite this Entry

“Mothball.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
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More Definitions for mothball



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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