An anecdote is a short and amusing but serious account, which may depict a real/fake incident or character. Anecdotes can be as brief as the setting and provocation of a bon mot. An anecdote is always presented as based in a real incident 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 "An anecdote is a historical element — a historical molecule or epigram". 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.
The word 'anecdote' (in Greek: ἀνέκδοτον "unpublished", literally "not given out") comes from Procopius of Caesarea, the biographer of Justinian I, who produced a work entitled Ἀνέκδοτα (Anekdota, variously translated as Unpublished Memoirs or Secret History), which is primarily a collection of short incidents from the private life of the Byzantine court.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 to any short tale utilized to emphasize or illustrate whatever point the author wished to make.
Qualification as 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 an informal 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.
- Cuddon, J. A. (1992). Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, Third Ed. London: Penguin Books. p. 42.
- Whether authentic or not, it has verisimilitude; cf. "truthiness".
- "Eine Anekdote ist eines historisches Element — ein historisches Molekül oder Epigramm"; the quote is the epigraph to Gossman 2003)
- Its first appearance in English is of 1676 (OED).
- 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 dictionary definition of anecdote at Wiktionary