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Anecdotes 1

Anecdotes are sometimes the best vehicles of truth, and if striking and appropriate, are often more impressive and powerful than argument. - Tryon Edwards

One good anecdote is worth a volume of biography. - William Ellery Channing

Some people exclaim, "Give me no anecdotes of an author, but give me his works," and yet I have often found that the anecdotes are more interesting than the works" - Benjamin Disraeli

A collection of anecdotes and maxims is the greatest of treasures for the man of the world, for he knows how to intersperse conversation with the former in fit places, and to recollect the latter on proper occasions. - Goethe

If you have an anecdote from one source, and you hear it again from another source, it may be true. Then the more times you hear it the less likely it is to be true. - With Anthony Holden


A collection of anecdotes and maxims is the greatest of treasures . . . Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

An anecdote is a usually short and amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person. Humorous anecdotes are not exactly jokes, for their basic purpose is to reveal some wide-compassing point or to hint at a character trait in such a way that it strikes home somewhat. [Cf. Wikipedia, s.v. "Anecdote"]

You may find stories, anecdotes and quotes all around you. Do what suits you.

Your own life - find amusing anecdotes and life-defining moments. No one can tell these stories like you can, and in the first person. If your audience is not listening to judge you, things may go well. They too have their stories.

Become an Observer of Life - by observing nature and inanimate objects such as buildings, watching people. A conversation may provide inspiration for a story or vignette that can form material for your speech.

An avid reader - as you read, certain combinations of words will leap off the page or screen and will resonate with you, to generate stories.

Gain relevant outlooks of life. There is no need to get obsessed with learning and telling stories - that would be a mistake.


Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874�1936) was an English writer. His mind was so preoccupied that he often forgot to keep appointments. He relied on his wife in all practical matters. Once on a lecture tour he sent her the following telegram: "Am in Birmingham. Where ought I to be?"

She wired back: "Home."

A voice came

Plato tells a fable of how spirits of the other world came back to find bodies and places to work. One took the body of a poet and did his work. Finally, Ulysses came and said,

"All the fine bodies have been taken and all the grand work done. There's nothing for me."

"Yes," said a voice, "the best has been left for you - the body of a common man, doing a common work for a common reward."

One Good Reason

It is said that the sultan of Turkey once made an official visit to the city of Acre. The governor of the city, the officials and notables all turned out to welcome him. However, no guns were fired to salute his arrival, and that was contrary to custom.

The greatly offended sultan gave an order that the governor should be beheaded at once. Trembling with fear, the governor protested to the sultan that there were many good reasons why no guns had been fired when the sultan arrived.

The sultan wanted to know what those reasons were.

The governor said, "Your Majesty, the first reason is that we have no guns. The second reason is . . ."

Here the sultan interrupted him, "Your first reason is good enough. Never mind about all the others! You are pardoned!" (Cattan 2000:115, retold)

Something done

The famous painter Degas gave a little exclamation of disgust.

"Not one of these fellows has ever gone so far as to ask himself what art is all about!"

"Well, what's it all about?" countered one critic.

"I've spent my whole life trying to find out. If I knew I should have done something about it."

The yell to pass along to your children?

Marshal Foch visited the Grand Canyon, and the American Colonel John White hung breathlessly on the Marshal's words as he turned to him after a long scrutiny of the depths below.

"Now," thought the Colonel, "I'll hear something worthy of passing along to my children and grandchildren."

The Marshal, "What a beautiful place to drop one's mother-in-law!"

Very famous astrologer bending

A woman heard that the English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was a famous astrologer, visited him to ask him to find out where she had lost her purse - somewhere between London Bridge and Shooters' Hill, she thought. Newton merely shook his head.

But the woman persisted, she made as many as fourteen visits. To get rid of her, Newton at last donned an eccentric costume, chalked a circle around himself, and intoned,

"Abracadabra! Go to the facade of Greenwich Hospital, third window on the south side. On the lawn in front of it I see a dwarfish devil bending over your purse."

Away went the woman, and that is where she found it, according to the story.

Viewing a lot on the most beautiful spot

The British scholar William Paton Ker was a brisk walker and lover of mountain scenery. He revisited the Italian Alps in 1923. While he was walking up the slopes of the Pizzo Bianco at Macugnaga, he paused, and next remarked to his companions,

"I thought this was the most beautiful spot in the world, and now I know it."

So saying, he dropped dead of a heart attack.

Oil and water don't mix (Proverb)

At a stuffy English garden party, Beatrice Lillie (Lady Peel), wearing the Peel pearls, was approached by a lady who said maliciously,

"What lovely pearls, Beatrice. Are they genuine?"

Miss Lillie nodded.

"Of course, you can always tell by biting them," said the other. "Here, let me see."

"Gladly, Duchess," said Lady Peel, bringing forward her jewels, "but remember you can't tell real pearls with false teeth."

How to do it - alternative ways and outlooks

An American soldier that was attached to one of the American Tank Units in a long gone Libyan campaign, had been carried many miles deep into the heart of the desert to an outpost of the Front. It had been quiet for days when the soldier one afternoon got a few hours' leave. With some surprise his commanding officer spotted him striding across the sands, clad in bathing trunks.

"Murphy!" shouted the officer, "where do you think you're going?"

Said the soldier, "I just thought I'd take a dip in the surf while I had a couple of hours off."

"Are you crazy?" demanded the officer. "The ocean is 500 miles from here!"

"Beautiful big beach, isn't it?" said the soldier.

Disraeli's dismay - maybe not so bad after all?

On the first morning of a house party the wife of the British Conservative statesman Benjamin Disraeli said to her hostess at breakfast,

"I find that your house is full of indecent pictures."

Alarm and dismay spread across the faces of the assembled guests. Mrs. Disraeli went on,

"There is a most horrible picture in our bedroom. Disraeli says it is Venus and Adonis. I have been awake half the night trying to prevent his looking at it."

[Frank Muir's comments, "The account does not specify the method Mrs. Disraeli adopted".]

To appear strangely undefined or mysterious - a sign of combat strength at times of unrest

The religious beliefs of the Earl of Shaftesbury remained a mystery. He once remarked that all wise men are of but one religion.

"Which is that?" he was promptly asked.

"Wise men never tell," he replied.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1621-83), British statesman and lord chancellor at one time, also survived a charge of high treason.

There is no trust where there are lots of old men gathered

Some years ago a theological tempest in a teapot raged over the issue of Fundamentalism versus Modernism. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick in New York was in the forefront of it. They say that once he was awakened in the small hours of the morning by persistent telephone ringing. He hastened to answer it,


A voice: "Ish thish Mr. Foshdick?"

"Yes, this is Dr. Fosdick speaking."

"Dr. Harry Emerson Foshdick?"

"Yes, yes, what is it that you want?"

"Dr. Foshdick, I want to know the difference between Fundamentalism and Modernism."

"Good Heavens!" said Fosdick, "That's not something I can explain to you over the telephone and obviously you're in no condition to hear."

"But I can't wait till tomorrow. I must know now," insisted the other.

"Why can't you wait until tomorrow?," said Fosdick angrily, "Why do you have to know now?"

"Becaush tomorrow I won't give a damn," said the voice patiently.

Offhand approval

He who is bold doesn't always stumble and fall.
An Irishman was charged with a petty offence in the United States.

"Have you anybody here who can vouch for your character?" said the judge.

"Yes, the sheriff there can."

"I don't even know this man," exclaimed the sheriff.

"Observe," said the Irishman triumphantly, "that I've lived twelve years in this county and the sheriff doesn't even know me."

Alarming problem solved

Insurance agents are sometimes faced with difficult problems when the needed answer to insurance questions bear on sensitivities or family scandals of an applicant.

In one such instance a deal was held up for a long time because a US client refused to tell the cause of his father's death. After much wheedling the agent extracted that the client's father had been hanged, but could not induce his client to state this on the insurance blank.

"All right, we'll put it this way," said the agent. In the troublesome blank he wrote: "Fell from scaffold; death at once."

The problem was solved, or so it seems.

The famous thing

A friend once remarked to the famous cartoonist, (J. J. Darling) Ding,

"You must get a great deal of praise from all sides."

"No more than I need," he replied.

Salient Points

Every artist was first an amateur. (American)

Without good pleasures, life gets tarnished and society deteriorates.

Many cannot rise higher unhelped.

Anecdotes, jokes, humour, Literature  

Cattan, Henry, tr. The Garden of Joys: An Anthology of Oriental Anecdotes, Fables and Proverbs. Paperback ed. London: Saqi Books, 2000.

Fadiman, Clifton, ed. The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes. London: Little, Brown and Company, 1985.

Fuller, Edmund. 2500 Anecdotes for All Occasions. Avernel, NJ: Wing Books / Random House, 1990.

Gross, John, ed. 2006. The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mieder, Wolfgang (main ed.), Stewart A. Kingsbury, and Kelsie E. Harder. A Dictionary of American Proverbs. (Paperback) New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Rescher, Nicholas. A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press, 2015.

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