What is an anecdote?

The word anecdote came from the Greek word Anekdota which means a
collection of unpublished short tales of biographical incidents or memoirs.

An anecdote is a short tale based on real life event. It is a brief narrative of a
notable, amusing, inspiring, or interesting biographical incident involving a real
person, famous or not. An anecdote highlights a human character trait or reveals
a personal interaction without attempting to convey a moral lesson as those found
in fables and parables.

Unlike a
short story that may have a complicated plot involving a series of events,
an anecdote refers to a single uncomplicated event, or episode, that is unified in
space and time.

Anecdotes are sometimes humorous but they are not to be confused with jokes.
Humorous anecdotes are based on notable personal experiences that reveal a
true human character and behaviour in a particular incident, and, as such, they
seek to inspire others in a humorous way.

On the other hand,
jokes are also humorous short tales but their primary intent is
to entertain and evoke laughter, not to inspire. Their story lines are sometimes
exaggerated, or untrue, to create a more effective punch line.

A sub-category of jokes are
monologues which are made famous by late night
television shows. A monologue usually include several unrelated incidents, and is
sometimes used to convey a ridicule, critique, or political message in a humorous

Because anecdotes are based on actual events involving real persons, some
anecdotes are used to validate or reinforce certain pronouncements or claims
such as those relating to the promotion of certain products or services. Those
narrations are sometimes to as
anecdotal evidence but those should be more
appropriately called testimonials.

Anecdotal evidence maybe useful in selling a product, or service, but they have
very little value in the scientific and legal community because the narrative is not
subjected to scientific or judicial review.

Fables are also short tales that are notable, amusing, inspiring, and interesting
but, unlike anecdotes, fables are ancient fictional stories that revolve around
animals as principal characters. The main intent of the stories is to convey a
moral lesson and, in the process, to influence human behaviour.

Parables are partly similar to anecdotes and fables but they are different in that
they contain both real and fictional events, and the narration is given in some
historical perspective. Parables usually use metaphor to convey a moral or
spiritual message to influence human behaviour.

In summary, an anecdote is:

  • a short true biographical tale
  • of a single incident unified in space and time
  • that is notable, interesting, amusing, or inspiring
  • involving a real person and place
  • to delineate, or reveal, a human character or interaction


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