anecdote, brief narrative of a particular incident. An anecdote differs from a short story in that it is unified in time and space, is uncomplicated, and deals with a single episode. The literal Greek meaning of the word is "not published," and it still retains some such sense of confidentiality. Sometimes an anecdote is inserted into a novel as an interval in the main plot, as in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Famous books of anecdotes include the Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus and Plutarch's Lives.
For other uses, see Anecdota.
For a comparison of anecdote with other kinds of stories, see Myth, legend, fairy tale, and fable.
An anecdote is a short 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 based on real life, an incident involving actual persons, whether famous or not, in real places. 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 or the workings of an institution in such a light that it strikes in a flash of insight to their very essence. 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.

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.

The word anecdote ("unpublished", literally "not given out") comes from Procopius of Caesarea, the biographer of Justinian I, who produced a work entitled Ανεκδοτα (Anekdota, variously translated as Unpublished Memoirs or Secret History), which is primarily a collection of short incidents from the private life of the Byzantine court.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

As a rule, biographical anecdotes are considered too trivial or apocryphal to be included in a scholarly biography.

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 (Snowden, 1999; Gabriel, 2000).


The following are examples of anecdotes: A more sophisticated anecdote concerns Sidney Morgenbesser, then Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University, as follows:

For many years Reader's Digest featured "My Most Embarrassing Moment", anecdotes with the general theme, "life's like that", a common reaction to a well-told anecdote.

From 2006 onwards, Canadian CBC Television's The Hour has been airing a segment called "Best Story Ever". During these segments, staff from CBC Television and CBC Radio would discuss interesting anecdotes that happened to them. Most of the stories are humorous.

"Merely anecdotal": anecdotal evidence

Anecdotal evidence is an informal account of evidence in the form of an anecdote, or hearsay. 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.

See also


  • Snowden, D. (1999). "Story Telling: An Old Skill In A New Context." Business Information Review 16(1):30-37.
  • Gabriel, Y. (2000). Storytelling in Organizations: Facts, Fictions, and Fantasies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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