AskDefine | Define anecdote

Dictionary Definition

anecdote n : short account of an incident (especially a biographical one)

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Greek ανέκδοτα (anekdota), accounts unpublished; from αν- (an-), not + εκδότα (ekdota), published accounts.



  1. A short account of an incident, often humorous.
  2. A previously untold secret account of an incident.


short account of an incident
  • Croatian: anegdota
  • Finnish: anekdootti, kasku, juttu, tarina
  • German: Anekdote
  • Greek: ανέκδοτο
  • Icelandic: atvikssaga, stutt frásögn, anekdóta
  • Ido: anekdoto
  • Japanese: 逸話(いつわ, itsuwa'')
  • Portuguese: anedota
  • Spanish: anécdota
previously untold, secret account of an incident
  • Finnish: paljastus
  • German: Anekdote
  • Japanese: 秘史(ひし, hishi)



  • /a.nɛk.dɔt/
  • /a.nEk.dOt/


fr-noun f

Extensive Definition

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 metaphor 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 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The word anecdote ("unpublished", literally "not given out") comes from Procopius of Caesarea, the biographer of Justinian I, who produced a work entitled Ανεκδοτα (Anekdota, variously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: Cary Grant is said to have been reluctant to reveal his age to the public, having played the youthful lover for more years than would have been appropriate. One day, while he was sorting out some business with his agent">Casting Agentagent, a telegram arrived from a journalist who was desperate to learn how old the actor was. It read: HOW OLD CARY GRANT? Grant, who happened to open it himself, immediately cabled back: OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU? A more sophisticated anecdote concerns Sidney Morgenbesser, then Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University, as follows: One day in New York City">New York, New YorkNew York City, Morgenbesser put his pipe in his mouth as he was ascending the subway steps. A policeman approached and told him that there was no smoking on the subway. Morgenbesser pointed out that he was leaving the subway, not entering it, and that he had not yet lit up. The cop repeated his injunction. Morgenbesser repeated his observation. After a few such exchanges, the cop saw he was beaten and fell back on the oldest standby of enfeebled authority: "If I let you do it, I'd have to let everyone do it." To this the old philosopher replied, "Who do you think you are—Kant?" His last word was misconstrued, and the whole question of the Categorical Imperative had to be hashed out down at the police station. Morgenbesser won the argument.
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.


  • 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.

External links

anecdote in Danish: Anekdote
anecdote in German: Anekdote
anecdote in Estonian: Anekdoot
anecdote in Esperanto: Anekdoto
anecdote in French: Anecdote
anecdote in Hebrew: אנקדוטה
anecdote in Dutch: Anekdote
anecdote in Japanese: 逸話
anecdote in Norwegian: Anekdote
anecdote in Russian: Анекдот
anecdote in Slovak: Anekdota
anecdote in Slovenian: Anekdota
anecdote in Finnish: Anekdootti
anecdote in Swedish: Anekdot
anecdote in Turkish: Anekdot
anecdote in Ukrainian: Анекдот
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