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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For a comparison of anecdote with other kinds of stories, see Myth, legend, fairy tale, and fable.

An anecdote is a short, free-standing[1] tale narrating an interesting or amusing biographical incident. It may be as brief as the setting and provocation of a bon mot. An anecdote is always presented as based on a real incident[2] involving actual persons, whether famous or not, usually in an identifiable place. However, over time, modification in reuse may convert a particular anecdote to a fictional piece, one that is retold but is "too good to be true". Sometimes humorous, anecdotes are not jokes, because their primary purpose is not simply to evoke laughter, but to reveal a truth more general than the brief tale itself, or to delineate a character trait in such a light that it strikes in a flash of insight to its very essence. Novalis observed "Eine Anekdote ist eines historishes Element — eines historisches Molecule oder Epigramm".[3] A brief monologue beginning "A man pops in a bar..." will be a joke. A brief monologue beginning "Once J. Edgar Hoover popped in a bar..." will be an anecdote. An anecdote thus is closer to the tradition of the parable than the patently invented fable with its animal characters and generic human figures— but it is distinct from the parable in the historical specificity which it claims. An anecdote is not a biography nor does it bear a moral, a necessity in both parable and fable, merely an illustrative incident that is in some way an epitome.

The word anecdote (in Greek: "unpublished", literally "not given out") comes from Procopius of Caesarea, the biographer of Justinian I, who produced a work entitled Ἀνέκδοτα (Anekdota, variously translated as Unpublished Memoirs or Secret History), which is primarily a collection of short incidents from the private life of the Byzantine court. Gradually, the term anecdote came to be applied[4] to any short tale utilized to emphasize or illustrate whatever point the author wished to make.[5]

Anecdotes are typically oral and ephemeral. They are just one of the many types of stories told in organizations and the collection of anecdotes from people in an organization can be used to better understand its organizational culture.[6]

"Merely anecdotal": anecdotal evidence

Anecdotal evidence is an informal account of evidence in the form of an anecdote. The term is often used in contrast to scientific evidence, as evidence that cannot be investigated using the scientific method. The problem with arguing based on anecdotal evidence is that anecdotal evidence is not necessarily typical; only statistical evidence can determine how typical something is. Misuse of anecdotal evidence is a logical fallacy.

When used in advertising or promotion of a product, service, or idea, anecdotal evidence is often called a testimonial and is banned in some jurisdictions. The term is also sometimes used in a legal context to describe certain kinds of testimony. Psychologists have found that people are more likely to remember notable examples than the typical example.

In all forms of anecdotal evidence, objective independent assessment may be in doubt. This is a consequence of the informal way the information is gathered, documented, presented, or any combination of the three. The term is often used to describe evidence for which there is an absence of documentation. This leaves verification dependent on the credibility of the party presenting the evidence.


  1. ^ Two characteristics identified at the outset of Lionel Gossman, "Anecdote and history", History and Theory 42.2 (May 2003:143-168); Gossman examines the range of historians' reactions to anecdote, from appreciative to dismissive.
  2. ^ Whether authentic or not, it has verisimilitude; cf. "truthiness".
  3. ^ "An anecdote is a historical element — a historical molecule or element"; the quote is the epigraph to Gossman 20030)
  4. ^ Its first appearance in English is of 1676 (OED).
  5. ^ Note that in the context of Estonian, Lithuanian, Bulgarian and Russian humor anecdote refers to any short humorous story without the need of factual or biographical origins.
  6. ^ D. Snowden, D. (1999). "Story Telling: An Old Skill In A New Context." Business Information Review 16.1 (1999::30-37); Y. Gabriel, Storytelling in Organizations: Facts, Fictions, and Fantasies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

See also

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ANECDOTE (from av-, privative, and Ercalacoµe, to give out or publish), a word originally meaning something not published. It has now two distinct significations. The primary one is something not published, in which sense it has been used to denote either secret histories - Procopius, e.g., gives this as one of the titles of his secret history of Justinian's court - or portions of ancient writers which have remained long in manuscript and are edited for the first time. Of such anecdota there are many collections; the earliest was probably L. A. Muratori's, in 1709. In the more general and popular acceptation of the word, however, anecdotes are short accounts of detached interesting particulars. Of such anecdotes the collections are almost infinite; the best in many respects is that compiled by T. Byerley (d. 1826) and J. Clinton Robertson (d. 1852), known as the Percy Anecdotes (1820-1823).

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