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The "Scent of Peace" - Methyl Nonyl Ketone

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The "Scent of Peace" - Methyl Nonyl Ketone

Those who loose the Dogs of War
Shall rue the day for evermore.
But bearing rue, the Herb of Grace,
The Scent of Peace doth war erase.

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Today we ponder the Scent of Peace and the Dogs of War. But not necessarily in that order.

One of the joys of marriage is playing Cassandra. Spouses have a nasty habit of not believing warnings, no matter how logical. Now, I don't mean to scare young singles away from marital bliss. No - playing Cassandra is simply too much fun. I agree that not being listened to somewhat sucks. But the joy of being able to predict the future - priceless. You simply must have this, my fellow fragrance fiends.

Thus we are brought to the Dogs of War. Are you thinking of fearsome, snarling, canine monsters, let loose on some horrific battlefield? Well, think again. The Dogs of War are small, cuddly, and quite cute. And this is, in fact, the source of their intense evil. Indeed, the only thing more evil is Hello Kitty, but for completely different reasons. I will speak no further of Hello Kitty.

Now, if you have ever seen pictures of cute puppies with names like "Chloe", you very likely did not associate an odor with said picture. Either that, or you associated - wrongly, I might add - the scent of a fine fragrance, possibly even one after which the dog was named. Something like, say, Chloe. Or Tiffany. Or even a component like Jasmine. Well, I do hate to be the bearer of bad news, but cute puppies smell nothing like fine fragrance.

Of course, my dear wife did not believe this. And that was a problem. Being a bit OCD, my dear wife would never do anything to disturb the fine fragrance of our home sweet homme - much less introduce anything which might nullify necessary things. And by necessary, I mean things such as triply steam-cleaned carpets, and rooms decorated in the style of negative rococo, by which beauty arises through a profusion of absence. No - anything which would disturb the calm equilibrium of such a lifestyle must not even be discussed.

Now some folks might find it difficult to deal with this, but let me assure you that otherwise wedded bliss makes OCD extremely tolerable. Surely you've realized by now, thanks to the brilliant acting of Tony Shaloub, that people with OCD can be quite lovable. But unless the person truly desires to overcome this genetic personality trait (I hate calling it a disorder), then it is extremely unlikely that they will do so.

SO…… it was news to be received with considerable surprise that my wife needed a puppy. Even more surprising - her thought that this would somehow not impact her lifestyle. Now, I could have shock-cured her OCD by not saying anything, but this struck me as a bit devious. No - I was morally obligated to be Cassandra, and it was - simply - joyous.

Never in my life have I enjoyed being so right so often. Being a prophet must feel like this all the time, and if so, it is surely worth being tarred and feathered, unloved in one's own home, and possibly worse. I'm very familiar with the condition of not being believed by my wife, but by the special insanity of puppy logic, I was almost divine in my scorned proclamations. Behold - I predicted dog odor - and it was. I, the chosen Prophet Eitoldyasoh, predicted great yellow floods - and so they were. The Prophet spoke of crying, and wailing, and the gnashing of teeth on fine furniture (though not necessarily in that order), and by the power of the Universe flowing through me, this, too, came to pass.

Of course, being a Prophet of the Dogs of War has its down side. There is the inevitable carnage to innocent bystanders. Even those forewarned by the Spirit of Schadenfreude are not immune. Although my sacred priestly ointments were carefully stowed, out of reach of the Hound from Hell, the sacred writings were not. There are various critics who have shown no love for Roja Dove's recent book. Our demonic puppy, on the other hand, has shown great love for Dove's writing, and has brought new meaning to the term "dog-eared" pages.

Which brings me to the Scent of Peace. Some of you may think that I'm referring to the light fragrance by Bond no.9, typically regarded as a femme-leaning unisex. My wife enjoys that one, as do I, and I must admit that the thought of using this fragrance in a direct attack upon the Dogs of War had crossed my mind. Turning the Dogs of War into a mobile form of New York potpourri has some technical, if not military judicial appeal. However, cover scents are ineffective, and do nothing to prevent civilian casualties. No - higher technology is required.

Methyl nonyl ketone - also known as 2-undecanone - is a rather interesting fragrance component. It is one of the volatile components of rue oil. Thus, it is basically an aromatic herbal component. If I were to describe the scent in the style of Luca Turin, I might classify it as "sweet nothing", or "invisibly fresh". Honestly, it doesn't smell like much. It has a light odor - slightly sweet, fresh, and a bit synthetic. Some have even described it as acrid, although after a few minutes, that quality seems to disappear. In any case, it's not exactly something to write home about. It was not at all unpleasant to sniff on paper. Well, at least not for moi... Bois-ha-ha!

Apparently, humans aren't the only mammals capable of smelling methyl nonyl ketone. Animals with more sensitive noses than ours can smell it too. And, apparently, they don't like it. This substance is used as both an insect repellant and an animal repellant. It is commercially available in a number of products, including one called Boundary. One which supposedly keeps the Dogs of War in check.

Well, I may be from Kansas, but my empirical side is from across the border, in Missouri. Show me. And show me, it did.

As our war games progressed, Roja Dove and Luca Turin had retreated to the southwest end of the battlefield, nicknamed "The Den" by the grunts. It was there that French Perfumery utterly defeated French Poodledom. Retreating to The Den, with The Dogs of War in hot pursuit, the American Militia, allied with the French Culture Warriors, laid down a three-foot swath of methyl nonyl ketone. Leaving the border otherwise undefended, the Americans lured the enemy into the contaminated area. Gleefully, they watched as the enemy suddenly realized their predicament. With wrinkled nose and upturned dog lips, the enemy wheeled about and beat a hasty retreat to uncontaminated ground. Amid shouts of joy from the Defenders of Dove, the enemy turned tail and fled. Truly a victory for fine fragrance - and all thanks to a molecule that we can barely smell.

So what's the deal with methyl nonyl ketone? Why does it bother dogs and not humans? Well, I have three suspects - intensity, character, and interpretation. First, I suspect that it smells much stronger to dogs than to humans. Although I can certainly smell the stuff, it's simply not enough to get me out of my chair. But it's clearly quite odorous to the dog. Next, I suspect that it may interact with more, or different, canine olfactory receptors. Perhaps even some which signal "bad" odors. And since animals have a more direct connection with natural things, they must, by necessity, retain a greater instinctive dislike of potentially poisonous plants, rue being one of them.

In any case, that's less of a concern. The stuff works, and peace has broken out. With a fine assortment of piano legs and potted plants still available, the Dogs of War have nearly forgotten Roja Dove. And as long as the new sheriff, 2-Undecanone, is in town, order will be the order of the day.

Voices like the wind
They listen to things we cannot hear
The dogs that walk on two legs.

All face and no nose
They sense so little and do so much
The dogs that walk on two legs.

Quick to anger but quicker to forgive
They speak more words than we can understand
The dogs that walk on two legs.

But on sunny days
When they see me in the grass
I can tell that they wish they could be
The dogs that walk on four legs.

Updated 3rd May 2018 at 07:04 PM by Redneck Perfumisto (Image uploaded to Basenotes)



  1. ECaruthers's Avatar
    You got me thinking that puppy irrational exuberance is much safer than stock market irrational exuberance. I could probably have saved a lot of money last year if I'd kept a bottle of Grey Flannel by the phone and sprayed myself in the face every time I was tempted to call my broker.
  2. Bastetcat's Avatar
    I'm still giggling. I nearly sprayed coffee all over my computer screen!
    I will now have to try out Boundry. I'm a devout cat-person-turned-greyhound-lover. Weird, I know. While genetically canine, greyhounds are really big cats. Who knew? However, occasionally they do lapse into uncivilized behavior in my garden or around the garbage can. Thanks!

    PS: my husband also plays Cassandra to me. I just never thought of it as that before! He'll get a huge kick out of this when I show it to him.
  3. Redneck Perfumisto's Avatar
    Grey Flannel and greyhounds! Wild! Thanks for the kind comments, people!

    So Grey Flannel isn't exactly your cup of tea, Ed? I'll admit that it's a bit of a zinger. Might work for me too, come to think of it! And I'd need it. Stocks scare the heck out of me, because I don't understand 'em. I would definitely be one of those people who would be paying for somebody's apartment in Manhattan. I just stay away. At least gambling is kinda fun for a few minutes.

    Sorry about the computer screen, Bastetcat. I'll see if I can help you clean it off with a different liquid next week!

    That's wild about greyhounds. They look so sleek and agile - I guess I can kind of see how they're a bit catlike. But that digging gene - I don't think there's any way to put a lid on that one!

    Say hi to your husband for me, and tell him that I hereby make him a fellow member of the Order of Cassandra! The secret handshake is pointing your palms to the sky, looking up, and going "Why me?"
  4. JaimeB's Avatar
    Well, red, aside from writing a beautifully wry post, you betray your English lit background in spades in it as well.

    "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war" is of course from Julius Caesar (3.1.273), the words of Mark Antony after the funeral oration over Caesar. There is an interesting background here: "Havoc!" was a medieval military command ordering troops to loot and pillage a captured town. Shakespeare's phrase "dogs of war" is thought to refer to these pillaging soldiers.

    So... methyl nonyl ketone (aka 2-undecanone)...

    The "scent of peace" is Shakespeare's reference to a botanical commonplace of his time, namely that rue was an herb thought to restore peace, largely through the association of the bitterness of the herb with the bitterness of penance. He mentions it in two plays: in Hamlet and in King Richard II.

    Ophelia's lines in Hamlet:
    "There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. And there’s pansies, that’s for thoughts… There's fennel for you and columbines; there's rue for you; and here's same for me. We may call it herb-of-grace o' Sundays; O you must wear rue with a difference. There's a daisy; I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end." (4.5.199-209)
    Ophelia's madness and grief, occasioned by the death of Polonius and by Hamlet's betrayal of her after making her pregnant, lead her to this speech. The first offers of flowers are probably to her brother Laertes, but in coming to fennel, columbines, rue, daisies, and violets, she is probably intending these for Hamlet. Fennel symbolized cuckoldry; columbines, falseness. Rue, of course, is for repentance; daisies, in the flower-language of the day, denoted inconstancy in love. The violets denoted faithfulness; they withered the day her father died, stabbed to death through the arras by Hamlet.

    And again in Richard II:

    "Here in this place I'll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace; Rue, even for ruth, shall shortly here be seen, In the remembrance of a weeping queen." (3.4.104-7)

    A gardener speaks these lines in Richard II out of pity for the sadness of the Queen.

    At one time the holy water was sprinkled from brushes made of the herb rue at the ceremony of the Asperges, usually preceding the Sunday celebration of High Mass; for that reason it is supposed it was named the Herb of Repentance and the Herb of Grace. The psalm verse sung during the sprinkling with holy water is "Asperges me hyssopo, Domine, et mundabor; lavabis me, et plus quam nivem dealbabor." (Ps. 51, v. 7). [Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I will become whiter than snow.] The Latin refers to sprinkling with the herb hyssop, but rue may have been easier to obtain in England.

    I have rue plants at the front and back doors of my apartment. I guess it's part of my Spanish heritage. According to an old Spanish superstition, rue is supposed to repel evil, and this is likely related to the Asperges ceremony as well. Also, people who are suffering from eye problems wash with water in which rue has been steeped; another old Spanish belief is that it will heal eye ailments.

    Rue is even mentioned in one other aspect of Spanish culture. There's an old Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) song called "Una Matica de Ruda" about a young maiden who receives a rue plant in flower as a gift from a young man who is in love with her:

    "Una matica de ruda,
    una matica de flor;
    me la dio un mançevico
    que de mí se enamoró"

    As to the "dogs of war," I had a pair of basenjis once. Incredibly smart and sleek dogs, but quite capable of perversity and destructiveness, they responded with aversion to the spray called Sour Lemon, which I believe was the "active element" in rue, generously masked (for humans' sake) with a bright lemon note.

    Love the Shakespeare. Let's have more of that!
    Updated 1st August 2009 at 10:09 PM by JaimeB
  5. JaimeB's Avatar
    First question:

    Where is your opening verse from?

    Those who loose the Dogs of War
    Shall rue the day for evermore.
    But bearing rue, the Herb of Grace,
    The Scent of Peace doth war erase.

    Did you write it yourself?

    Next question:

    The chemical diagrams at the top are also interesting. Is the one on the bottom right a doggie with hydrogen sulfide coming out its behind and laughing gas going into its nose?
    Updated 30th July 2009 at 05:21 PM by JaimeB
  6. Redneck Perfumisto's Avatar
    Jaime, thank you so much for your wonderful response. In preparing this post, I did a bit of research on rue, but nothing I found even came close to what you were able to provide us. Wow! And that information about the etymology of "havoc" is fascinating, although a bit scary. I always consider myself so lucky to live in a time and place where that sort of thing doesn't often happen.

    The opening verse is mine - as far as I know. I have to be careful in saying that, because I find myself prone to regurgitating garbled bits and pieces of things I have read, and for all I know, any part of it may have come from somewhere else. I once found that a "novel" phrasing I had come up with bothered me. I knew it was from somewhere, but I couldn't place it. Two days later it came to me - it was in some song lyrics. So I'm a bit suspicious about the first line - it just looks like something that could have come from somewhere. I hope it's mine, but you just never know. It's pretty hard to come up with 6 English words that make sense, sound good, and haven't been used before.

    And you are so close on the doggie, I have to give it to you. If you condense (join by eliminating atoms) the dog-body-and-head-shaped alkane and hydrogen sulfide, you get what you see - an SH group. This would make it a thiol, important to Luca Turin's arguments, but more important to my purpose, because thiols are stinky. So yes, it is basically emerging hydrogen sulfide. And in front, it's almost nitrous oxide (N2O), aka laughing gas. I was actually intending a nitro group (-NO2), as in TNT and the like! Together with the puddle of H2NCONH2 (urea) behind it, I would say that odor from the rear and destruction from the front pretty much describe our dog. Well - almost. She is just SO CUTE. I could just hug her all day. But I also have to admit that I hold my breath a little when I do.

    PS - not sure if it's a real molecule. It's potentially real, and probably stinky, although probably not explosive.

    PPS - thanks again for your awesome comment. I'd write more, but I'm on vacation and my wife wants me to come to bed. But I am fascinated by your information about rue, and think it's exceptionally neat that you have some. Muchas gracias, Jaime!


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