What's in a Word | All Blogs

Secret stories

By Debra Dobbins

I smiled over Pickles today for a number of reasons. Among them is that coincidentally I'll attend my book club tonight, and we are likely to share some good anecdotes as we discuss our latest read. That's what good books do: They spark personal responses as readers incorporate their contents into their own life stories.

Yourdictionary.com notes that anecdotes can be used for these reasons: to caution, to reminisce, to bring cheer or to persuade or inspire. Public speakers often start out with anecdotes as a way to “hook” the interest of their audiences. Or, the dictionary adds, anecdotes can simply be “part of a natural conversation.”

This word also has had its meaning watered down. According to the Online Eytmology Dictionary, it came into English in the 1670s and meant "'secret or private stories' from French anecdote (17c.) or directly from Greek anekdota 'things unpublished.'” The dictionary adds that by 1761, the word's meaning had “decayed in English to 'brief, amusing stories.'”

In researching "anecdotes," I came across one word I hadn't known: “anectdotage,” which is a portmanteau word composed of anecdote and dotage. Webster's defines it as “senility, as characterized by the telling of rambling anecdotes.” (I dare not explain this word to my son – too much ammo.)

Maria Hatcliffe and Bobbi Alpha have shared many delightful anecdotes at our book club meetings. (Photo by Debra Dobbins)

Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.
Mark Rothko  (Source: brainyquotes.com)


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