What Is an Anecdote?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

once upon a time - anecdote
Gary Provost defines anecdote as "a little story, usually one paragraph, that illustrates a point of your article" (Make Your Words Work, 1990). (Dave Bolton/Getty Images)

An anecdote is a brief narrative: a short account of an interesting or amusing incident usually intended to illustrate or support some point in an essay, article, or chapter of a book. Adjective: anecdotal.

The expression anecdotal evidence refers to the use of particular instances or concrete examples to support a general claim. Such information (sometimes referred to pejoratively as "hearsay") may be compelling but does not, in itself, provide proof.

See Examples and Observations below.


From the Greek, "unpublished items"

Examples and Observations

  • "The writer makes his living by anecdotes. He searches them out and carves them as the raw materials of his profession. No hunter stalking his prey is more alert to the presence of his quarry than a writer looking for small incidents that cast a strong light on human behavior."
  • An Anecdote About Alfred Einstein
    "There was something elusively whimsical about Einstein. It is illustrated by my favorite anecdote about him. In his first year in Princeton, on Christmas Eve, so the story goes, some children sang carols outside his house. Having finished, they knocked on his door and explained they were collecting money to buy Christmas presents. Einstein listened, then said, "Wait a moment." He put on his scarf and overcoat, and took his violin from its case. Then, joining the children as they went from door to door,he accompanied their singing of 'Silent Night' on his violin."
  • Anecdotes About Ralph Waldo Emerson
    "In [Ralph Waldo] Emerson's later years his memory began increasingly to fail. He used to refer to it as his 'naughty memory' when it let him down. He would forget the names of things, and have to refer to them in a circumlocutory way, saying, for instance, 'the implement that cultivates the soil' for plow. Worse, he could not remember people's names. At Longfellow's funeral, he remarked to a friend, 'That gentleman has a sweet, beautiful soul, but I have entirely forgotten his name.' Perhaps most touching was his term for umbrella--'the thing that strangers take away.'"




    (Norman Cousins, The Healing Heart: Antidotes to Panic and Helplessness. Avon, 1984)

    (Banesh Hoffman, "My Friend, Albert Einstein." Reader's Digest, January 1968)

    (Reported in Clifton Fadiman, ed., The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, 1985)