Saturday, January 5, 2008

Do You Thpeak With a Lithp?

I have a serious moth problem in my house. I love wool, and am crying because many of my favorite wool sweaters are being eaten, and have holes all over them. Some pieces can only be thrown away, but some--those with only a few small holes--might be worth salvaging. I researched how to get rid of moths without resorting to noxious chemicals such as moth balls. My search for an environmentally friendly product led to several encounters that made me wonder about the nature of communications, and the realization that some words are genetically predisposed to be misunderstood.

I happened to mention the moth problem to an acquaintance, and she told me of a small hardware store in her neighborhood where she got something called a "Moth Trap". Safe for humans and pets, it could be hung in a closet, where it trapped moths on a sticky surface so they could not escape and breed. I knew this hardware store, and decided to go get some moth traps.

The hardware store was, mournfully, closed for the holidays. Impatient and dejected, I stopped in another small store in my neighborhood on the way home. It mostly carried groceries, but did also have household items. I went to a clerk and asked him for help.

"I'm looking for a moth trap," I said.

He looked puzzled. "Mouse trap?"

I shook my head. "No, no. Moths." I emphasized the "th", sticking my tongue farther out than I normally do when speaking.


Oh my. "No, moths. They're little tiny flies, usually white. They live in closets and eat clothes. They like wool."

Understanding lit up his eyes, and he nodded violently. "Yes! They like wood! They live in wood piles!"

I gave up on the Asian grocery store. Thinking that Lowe's Hardware might carry something ecologically friendly, I went there. I sought the customer service desk, and asked the woman there if they carried a product called Moth Trap.

"Aisle 52," she said instantly, pointing. I headed toward Aisle 52, and found the aisle labeled "Outdoor Pests". This did not look good, but I searched anyway--and found mouse traps. Darn, not even a native English speaker knows what I want.

I decided to go to another desk, a different clerk. This time I asked for mothballs. That's a word most people understand readily. It took us a while to find them (someone had moved them), but the second clerk led me to the mothballs (stored, naturally, in the Closet section). They only carried mothballs, nothing else. The warning on the package said to only put them inside sealed containers, and avoid breathing the fumes.

Sigh. I guess I'll have to wait until Monday when the little old-fashioned hardware store reopens.