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Term Definition

A person shares an anecdote when he talks about someone or something he saw or heard about; the anecdote usually arises within the context of a specific conversation, and the speaker shares it because it is relevant to the conversation. The anecdote is meant to have a positive effect on the listener, whether by simply making him laugh or causing him the experience some kind of enlightenment.

What is an anecdote?

An anecdote is a story, spoken, written, acted out, or produced through a combination of these communications. Anecdotes are short, interesting, or funny renditions of an event or occurrence that may have happened to the speaker, author, or actor, or someone he or she purports to know. Anecdotes are often bibliographic or amusing, and are common in the repertoire of socialites and politicians. Synonyms of anecdote are: story, yarn, and tale. Anecdote is derived from the French anecdote, and its first use was circa 1721. The French anecdote is derived from the Greek anekdota meaning “unpublished items.” Anecdotes are commonly spoken stories between two or more people.

Examples and usage rules

An anecdote can be a simple, short, or humorous story told by one person to another, usually in an effort to convey understanding or comparison in a particular situation. Stories from one’s childhood are considered anecdote, as they are short and often told to lighten a somber mood or enlighten another person as to a certain idea or fact. In addition, an anecdote can be a statement or idea that is generally considered to be gossip, an untruth, unreliable, or hearsay. 

The use of anecdotes should be limited in formal research paper writing to avoid making the tone too casual. However, an anecdote in the introduction of an essay can hook the readers' attention.

An anecdote might make a listener or reader laugh, or consider the deeper import of the story. Anecdotes usually occur in discussions or conversations between two or more persons, and revolve around the primary topic being discussed. For example, a group of people at dinner discussing the antics of their various children use anecdotes to provide new topics of conversation, or to provide the silliest, most ridiculous, or most intelligent stories. Anecdotes can be used to entertain as well as inform. The casual nature of anecdotes allows them to be presented as less of a lecture and more of a helpful advice session.

The following examples are occurrences in which anecdotes might be used to soften the blow of unfortunate circumstances. First, a speaker on safety relates a cautionary tale about a serious injury which occurred due to a lack of sufficient safety protocol. Second, a father relates a tale of a kidnapping from his youth to discourage his daughter’s curfew truancy. Third, a student who passed a particular exam (or essay) tells a student who failed about an exam he or she failed in the past.

Anecdotes in writing

An anecdote can also be the depiction of a minor narrative incident within a painting, for instance of situations or actions common in nineteenth-century French lifestyles. In general, anecdotal painting is often called history painting, and is define more by subject matter than artistic styling. Titian’s Diana and Actaeon (1556-1559) is an example of anecdotal painting which depicts one dramatic moment from mythology via still-life and landscape painting. These paintings usually contain many figures or people. Religious narratives, mythological narratives, and allegorical scenes are common to this genre. 

Some artists who frequently used anecdotes in their paintings include Raphael (The Meeting of Leo the Great and Attila), Michelangelo (The Sistine Chapel’s ceiling) and Jacques-Louis David (Oath of Horatii). History painting was most common prior to the 19th century, and Leon Battista Alberti claimed that it was the highest form of art because it moved the viewer through the interactions of historical and powerful characters’ interactions. The struggle against academic establishment art institutions in the 19th century changed ideas about historical paintings’ importance in the art world, and the public demand for art increased. 

Throughout modern art, artists continue to convey anecdotes through canvasses. Some examples of modern day anecdotal artists are Luis Barragan, who painted the vibrant colors of the Mexican countryside; René Magritte, who painted surrealist art; Vincent van Gogh, who captured figures through dense brushstrokes; and Pablo Picasso, whose 11 by 25.6 foot Guernica tells the story of the Spanish Civil War and the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain by German and Italian warplanes.

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