I saw a Wikipedia article (and not only this one) using the verb "to mothball" to denote rather obsolete, abandoned, put-on-hold methods or phenomena, e.g.:

So by 2003, the original ECMAScript 4 work was mothballed.

Is the usage of a phrase like "to mothball something" or "X is mothballed since Y" is appropriate in formal context, e.g. in technical documentation, legal papers or in a scientific manuscript?

Also, is this verb is used for people or animals?

  • 2
    The idiom is a little informal. In a rigorously academic setting, I'd look for words more illustrative of your erudition, like deprecated or superannuated. Jul 14 '17 at 19:36
  • The Wordnik entry for mothball includes several example usages (most of which are gleaned from news articles), so it's at least used in journalism.
    – J.R.
    Jul 14 '17 at 19:36
  • @P.E.Dant Thank you for your suggestion, these are great substituents. And you are right, I never saw this expression in academic setting, it might be just too vulgar. Could you please post your comment as an answer and include a note whether one is allowed to use this term for people in colloquial speech?
    – andselisk
    Jul 14 '17 at 19:43
  • 2
    You could use mothballed when testifying before Congress about a military project but not to describe a metrical prayer a saint was working on but set aside. It's fine for ECMAScript and other motheaten things. It's a question of register. Jul 14 '17 at 19:46
  • 1
    @RobK True, and the verb mothball was misused in the cited Wikipedia article. By the way, have you ever smelled mothballs? Jul 14 '17 at 19:56

It's a perfectly acceptable term in English. The term derives from the small balls of pesticide added to closets and drawers to repel and kill moths, which would otherwise damage the stored clothing. See https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mothball So when you mothball something, you put it away for long term storage.

  • Thank you, I'm more or less aware of the origins of this expression, but I still have some doubts about it's usage in a formal document.
    – andselisk
    Jul 14 '17 at 19:45
  • I can't imagine what sort of formal document I wouldn't use it in.
    – Rob K
    Jul 14 '17 at 19:49
  • 1
    @RobK As Tᴚoɯɐuo says, it's a question of register. It's not that the term is inappropriate or "vulgar"; it's that others may be more "learned" in affect. Jul 14 '17 at 20:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.