I anagrammed my dearest dear back in 2012; after nearly three years of incubation, it’s a poem as of today. It’s one of several endearments I’ve made that come from oldtime Appalachian tunes—in this case, unmistakably, from the Tommy Jarrell song “As Time Draws Near.”
Finishing the poem made me want to set down some of the other endearments that have their sources in oldtime music. I didn’t plan on drawing from those tunes for this project, exactly, and of course some endearments show up lots of places. But oldtime informs another series of poems I’ve been working on for years, and I love to play it, and all this probably caused certain endearments to tug on my memory more. A little list:
my dearest dear: “As Time Draws Near,” Tommy Jarrell (Clawhammer Banjo Vol. 3, County LP 757, 1978)
my darling: “Your Long Journey,” Doc Watson and Rosa Lee Watson (The Watson Family, Folkways FA 2366, 1963)
turtle dove: “My Pretty Crowing Chicken,” Frank Proffitt (High Atmosphere, Rounder 0028, 1974), the last stanza of which is:
My own true love, my sweet turtle dove,
When shall I see you again?
When the moon and the stars enter into yonders green
And the sky shall shed no more rain, rain, rain,
And the sky shall shed no more rain.
A question I once answered decisively and preemptively has arisen again: the question of apostrophes. Should I allow them in words that make up anagrams of the endearments?
My first answer was a firm no. The apostrophe introduces wiggle room, uncertainty, hidden things. This is why it’s disallowed in Scrabble.
Despite my disdain for the Scrabble dictionary, which I find excessively permissive and full of unuseful and questionable words, I do like the broader Scrabble rules. The prohibition against proper names, for instance, I’ve taken into this project without question—although perhaps it should be questioned too. If an endearment is a name for someone, both obscuring and defining them, maybe if it is rearranged or peered into one might sometimes see an actual name within it. But I like the Scrabble rules because they are a discrete, finished set, convenient and very clear.
At any rate, my darling has caused me to rethink the apostrophes. There are two delicious words in it that could be very useful and expressive: “I’m” and “m’lady”. When I first saw “m’lady” I was delighted, in fact.* Then the rule: no apostrophes. Then I thought, well, what if? And that is about when “I’m” showed up. I would not have seen it otherwise.
It helps in cases like this to consider analogous situations. I certainly use sentence-level punctuation in the endearments. But word-level and sentence-level, as any good hyphenator knows, are very different things. Thinking of the hyphen, though, if I encountered a hyphenated word in an anagram, would I use it? Yes. So word-level punctuation is not in itself the problem.
The sticky wicket is that apostrophes indicate elision. They don’t just join up two words; they join them, obscure parts of them, and make a new word. What about those elided letters? was the insistent question in my brain. They count.
But what if the elided letters are part of the word that is the original endearment? In both of the words in our test case, the elided letter is in fact one of those that make up my darling: “milady”, “I am.” This strengthens the case for allowing such elision. But is it cheating to let a repeated letter—which I explicitly and definitely disallow—hide in the word?
If I look at it from the other side, it wouldn’t feel right to obscure such a letter within the eliding word and not use it in the rest of the anagram. The anagram must include all the letters. It’s more fitting that a word containing an apostrophe, and the implication of repeated letters, be included.
So perhaps it is okay for some letters to hide in the folds of the other letters, or on the other side of the little loophole the black dot of the apostrophe makes. In skirts. In lace. Such things are not uncharacteristic for an endearment.
*One reason: El and em rarely get to be so close to one another, outside of the alphabet. Elm, alm, helm, hemline. Much less making their discrete sounds, rather than becoming part of a consonant cluster.