No moths, no squirrels, no rats

Also no blue jays, but the three-NP version has the best music.

This is mostly about pests and my life, but there’s language and music in there too. Also a pro wrestler performing angry rejection:

(#1) Daniel Bryan of WWE’s SmackDown show

I’ll start with my pests (in more or less chronological order) and go on to uses of negation.

The possum/raccoon song. Years ago, I posted on the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss about pests that were afflicting my Ramona St. condo in Palo Alto: blue jays, squirrels, and roof rats. Bay Area friends also reported depredations of possums and/or raccoons. I summarized the situation in a soc.motss posting that my friend David Fenton then set to music, as I reported in a 11/3/11 posting on this blog:

the possum/raccoon song
… music by David Fenton, text by Arnold Zwicky

i have blue jays that snip off the tops of my orchids,
squirrels that uproot potted plants to bury their precious nuts,
and the occasional exploratory roof rat in the ivy,
but you possum-raccoon folks are in another league entirely.

I note here that skunk sightings are common locally (and they can often be smelled), but they haven’t actually ventured onto either of my patios. Ravens and crows have overrun the Bay Area, and can be heard all the time, but they too haven’t come onto my patios. Nor have the seagulls, which are also everywhere. Ground squirrels and pocket gophers are widespread burrowing pests, but paved patios don’t suit them. Deer pretty much stay on the foothills, but big cats — mountain lions (aka pumas, panthers) and bobcats (aka lynxes) — sometimes wander into town, though, again, not onto my patios. Ditto rattlesnakes. And Palo Alto has almost no feral dogs and cats.

So what I’ve had right outside my windows is jays (two different species), roof rats (Rattus rattus, aka the black rat or ship rat, nests in trees, in ivy, along roof lines, and in attics), and, omigod, squirrels.

From a 12/4/16 posting, on the slogan “Dig We Must”:

For the squirrels around my Ramona St. condo, it describes their relentless drive to dig in the nice loose soil of my container gardens, to bury the nuts they find in the neighborhood, leaving devastation in their wake.

And then a surprising development, reported in a 6/10/17 posting:

Squirrels have done considerable damage to my container gardens, and nothing I’ve tried has been effective in keeping them away for more than a brief time. But in the last two weeks, the marauding squirrels seem to have vanished completely. Maybe they’re on their annual early-summer rodent retreat in the foothills. Maybe there’s a predator keeping them away (though I haven’t seen evidence of one). Maybe someone is poisoning them — I bear considerable ill will towards squirrels, but not to the point of having them killed — though I haven’t seen any evidence of that, either.

So: we confront the Mystery of Blessed Squirrellessness.

And concomitant ratlessness. And jaylessness. Continuing to this day.

There are squirrels a block or two away, but not in my immediate neighborhood. I continue to suspect poisoning, though I haven’t seen any dead rodents (or birds). Life goes on.

What fresh hell? That would be clothes moths. They appeared in small numbers about six months ago, then had a fabulous population explosion. Suddenly they were everwhere — flying about at dusk, clustering on towels, resting at night on the walls, congregating on the furniture, the carpeting, and foodstuffs, and of course on clothes in the closets and drawers. Gigantic ick. A sober account from Wikipedia:

(#2) Common clothes moth

Tineola bisselliella, known as the common clothes moth, webbing clothes moth, or simply clothing moth, is a species of fungus moth (family Tineidae, subfamily Tineinae). It is the type species of its genus Tineola. The specific name is commonly misspelled biselliella – for example by G. A. W. Herrich-Schäffer, when he established Tineola in 1853.

The larvae (caterpillars) of this moth are considered a serious pest, as they can derive nourishment from clothing – in particular wool, but many other natural fibers – and also, like most related species, from stored foods, such as grains.

… This species is notorious for feeding on clothing and natural fibers; they have the ability to digest keratin protein in wool and silk. The moths prefer dirty fabric for oviposition and are particularly attracted to carpeting and clothing that contains human sweat or other organic liquids which have been spilled onto them; traces of dirt may provide essential nutrients for larval development. Larvae are attracted to these areas not only for the food but for traces of moisture; they do not require liquid water.

The range of recorded foodstuffs includes cotton, linen, silk and wool fabrics as well as furs. They will eat synthetic fibers if they are blended with wool. Furthermore, they have been found on shed feathers and hair, bran, semolina and flour (possibly preferring wheat flour), biscuits, casein, and insect specimens in museums.

… Both adults and larvae prefer low light conditions. Whereas many other Tineidae are drawn to light, common clothes moths seem to prefer dim or dark areas. If larvae find themselves in a well-lit room, they will try to relocate under furniture or carpet edges. Handmade rugs are a favorite, because it is easy for the larvae to crawl underneath and do their damage from below. They will also crawl under moldings at the edges of rooms in search of darkened areas where fibrous debris has gathered and which consequently hold good food.

A more deranged account, from the Guardian of 5/17/17, “Clothes moths are driving me mad. How can I be free of these insidious pests?” by Suzanne Moore:

Tineola bisselliella … its larvae could be eating a jumper near you

Here they are again, always in my peripheral vision, the tiny papery things that make me feel neither strong nor stable. Indeed, I would probably vote for anyone who vowed to get rid of the clothes moths that I always think have gone, until they come fluttering back. Everything may feel manageable but they are here to undermine that – by the time you see them, the damage is done. They serve only to remind you of that, for moths don’t eat anything at all – the larvae do. Once you see them, you have lost and they have won.

They acquire all the nutrition they will ever need as caterpillars. They live on nothing. Their mouth parts have atrophied, their only goal is to reproduce. Every year I think I have stopped their life cycle, that I am in control – and every year it turns out that I haven’t. They are eating their way through clothes that are loved and unloved. The world appears infested and the world is warming, so they appear more and more.

“Have you tried cedar balls or lavender?” the uninfested say, for a certain kind of person likes to stop nature with natural things. The fashion designer Giles Deacon recommends putting conkers in drawers.

We started the fight by picking the little bastards off by hand, then setting out moth traps all over the place; these comine a pheromone attractant with a sticky substance that traps the creatures fatally:



Many hundreds died a nasty death.

Meanwhile, we cleared out closets and drawers — trashing some things that were irrevocably damaged, giving away great piles of undamaged items, washing washables in hot water, sending other things out to be dry-cleaned. Kim Darnell then steeled herself to spray these spaces with a nasty chemical:


From the maker’s description:

SLA Cedar Scented Spray is used for quick, immediate protection. It kills on contact not only moths, carpet beetles and silverfish, but many other flying and crawling insects. SLA will not stain and leaves behind a fresh cedar scent.

Contains pyrethrins, pipernyl butoxide, and permetrin. Must be used with care.

For follow-up, there’s these:


I’ve been moth-free for, oh, six weeks now. There is hope.

Negation and its uses. The item no, as an interjection or as a determiner, can do lots of things. The interjection can express a negative answer to a question, disagreement or contradiction, rejection, prohibition, and shock or surprise, and a free-standing NP with determiner no — a no-NP — can express several of these, in particular rejection (No cilantro!) and prohibition (a sign NO DOGS), as well a negative existential, noting the absence of something (looking at a garden: Hmm, no roses).

The interjection and a no-NP can both be emphasized or intensified by repetition, as in the rant in #1; and distinct no-NPs can be strung together for rhetorical effect, as in the title of this posting (No moths, no squirrels, no rats).

Repetition. Once is not always enough, so the no of disagreement, rejection, prohibition, and so on can be repeated for effect. Occasionally an indefinite number of times, as with Daniel Bryan in #1: his t-shirt just has NO NO NO, three times, but the clip it’s taken from (which you can watch here) has him in a cascade of negation.

On the ranter, from Wikipedia:

Bryan Lloyd Danielson (born May 22, 1981), better known under the ring name Daniel Bryan, is an American retired professional wrestler currently signed to WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] as the on-screen general manager of [the tv program] SmackDown.

At the other end of the scale, you can just say no twice, as in No, No, Nanette. From Wikipedia:

(#7) Original sheet music cover (without commas)

(#8) A movie poster (with commas)

No, No, Nanette is a musical comedy with lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach, music by Vincent Youmans, and a book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel, based on Mandel’s 1919 Broadway play My Lady Friends.

Very often, the nos come in threes, as eventually in the lyrics to the They Might Be Giants song No!, from their first children’s album (you can listen to the song here, with animations):

(#9) No! is the first children’s album by alternative rock band They Might Be Giants, released in 2002 on Rounder Records and Idlewild Recordings. (Wikipedia link)

No is no
No is always no
If they say no, it means a thousand times no

No plus no equals no
All nos lead to no no no

Finger pointing, eyebrows low
Mouth in the shape of the letter O

Pardon me — No!
Excuse me — No!
May I stay?
Can I go?
No, no, no

Do this — No!
Don’t do that — No!
Sit, stay, roll over
No, no, no

Finger pointing, eyebrows low
Mouth in the shape of the letter O
Red means stop. Do not go.
No, no, no

Chaining of no-NPs. You can have just one — a NO PARKING — or two chained — a NO STOPPING NO STANDING sign, Bruce Springsteen’s lyric No retreat, baby, no surrender — or, very commonly, three: the sign


and these tripartite chainings (from among a great number you can find on the net):

No Frills, No Crowds, No Money: The Lonely Road to Tennis Glory (link)

No Grenada, no El Salvador, no Lebanon. (link)

There are no periods, no commas, no semi-colons in the 52,438-word piece (link)

Two-part chainings are moderately common, three-part chainings extremely common, longer chainings relatively rare (note that this sentence is itself a three-part chaining). In the world of these negative chainings, three is the sweet spot, with just enough weight to be consequential, but not so much as to be ponderous and hard to keep track of: No moths, no squirrels is ok but curt; No moths, no squirrels, no rats, no jays is ok but rambling; No moths, no squirrels, no rats is just right.

A favoring of three-part expressions crops up in other places, of course: see my 5/29/14 posting “Threesies”, about two different cases: “threesies” in cartoons and the X3 snowclone. Also note that No, No, Nanette is a three-word title, and that No retreat, baby, no surrender is a three-phrase line. It might also be relevant that so-called “irreversible binomials” (see this posting) — bacon and eggs, up and down, etc. — have two conjuncts but three words.


4 Responses to “No moths, no squirrels, no rats”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    See also yesterday’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

  2. Steven Levine Says:

    Now I’m thinking of this poem from 1844:

    By Thomas Hood

    No sun—no moon!
    No morn—no noon!
    No dawn—no dusk—no proper time of day—
    No sky—no earthly view—
    No distance looking blue—
    No road—no street—no “t’other side this way”—
    No end to any Row—
    No indications where the Crescents go—
    No top to any steeple—
    No recognitions of familiar people—
    No courtesies for showing ‘em—
    No knowing ‘em!
    No traveling at all—no locomotion—
    No inkling of the way—no notion—
    “No go” by land or ocean—
    No mail—no post—
    No news from any foreign coast—
    No Park, no Ring, no afternoon gentility—
    No company—no nobility—
    No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
    No comfortable feel in any member—
    No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
    No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds—

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