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"I Shit My Pants":
Spontaneous Ancient Literary Structure in Modern Colloquial Speech

by Clark Cooley, Ph.DL.DD.

Part I: Introduction

Literary criticism recognizes colloquial English at its best as falling naturally into blank, unrhymed iambic pentameter. What may be less well known is that other ancient literary forms, even-metered or otherwise, can find inadvertent modern expression in contemporary everyday speech.

Instances of the incognizant use of sophisticated literary figures abound in daily life and are often and easily perceived by those with advanced academic degrees. On any given day in the United States and its possessions, the ears of those attuned to the patterns of long-revered literary convention and practice resonate with instances of such literary tropes as antanaclasis, epanalepsis, polysyndeton, and even tmesis.

A voicemail message that recently appeared on the phone of a friend evinces a striking instance of one of the favorite figures of speech of the more sophisticated literates among the ancient peoples: chiasmus. As beloved as it was among the ancients, chiasmus may seem not to be much in evidence in everyday modern speech. It is the hope of the critic that its current rarity will occasion the indulgence of the more delicate among his readers toward the source text with which we will shortly be dealing.


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