The moth worm

From Arne Adolfsen on Facebook, an entertaining 1936 ad for Expello:

 

The crucial linguistic point is de-mothers (or demothers, you can’t tell because of the line break). This is a semantically transparent, but innovative, derived form from the noun moth, conveying ‘remove moths from’. Still, it presents some parsing challenges.

From Arne:

I’m sure I’m not the only native English speaker who instinctively pronounced the “th” in “de-mothers” as a voiced dental fricative instead of the unvoiced dental fricative the context requires *even though I knew what the context was*.

This is probably a frequency thing. The item mother (with the voiced (inter)dental) is so overwhelmingly frequent that it makes any another interpretation hard to recover, even with the support of context.

One Response to “The moth worm”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I still remember a joke from my childhood about a budding (juvenile male) lepidopterist appearing at a library checkout desk with a book titled What Every Young Mother Should Know.

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