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Anecdotes 2

Fit for kettles

When Ludwig van Beethoven began the work on his mass in D in 1819, he was to have it ready for a certain coronation the next year. But when Beethoven had completed the mass, the celebration had been over for two years.

During that time, when Beethoven worked on the mass, he once missed certain sheets of the manuscript. He searched high and low, but could not find them anywhere. He called in a servant, but she knew nothing about them.

When he had given up the search, the missing music - some loose papers with notes on them and begrimed with soot and dust - were discovered in the kitchen and brought up to his room.

It showed up that his servant had removed them from his room one day when "clearing up," and had wrapped up some pots and kettles in them. (Gates 1896, No. 71)

No great matter

In good company, a traveller told how he and his servants had made fifty Arabs run. When he saw it startled the others, he added, "It was no great matter. We ran, and they ran after us." (Lemon 1865, No. MCIX)

"A cherry - an anecdote."

A figurative cherry. A cherry has a stem and a balanced, round body with a glossy, inviting surface surface with a smooth and nice point also. An anecdote is a story with a point as well. That is how it most often is. An anecdote may come with a slender stem of biographical data or something - along with a short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident, which is a figurative cherry.

There are many sorts of trees that yield cherries, and many life events that yield anecdotes: some sweet, and some sour, for example.

When eating cherries from a tree or a bowl of cherries, it is common to seek the most delicious ones and eat them first, and end up eating some more too, if not all at hand. Something like that could happen to the merry anecdote-reader. Just be warned.

Ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste. [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe]

Merry, merry, take a cherry, mine are sounder, mine are rounder, Mine are sweeter for the eater. [Emily Dickinson]

When I was a kid growing up, we had a cherry tree . . . I climbed it, and it gave shade in the summertime and excellent cherries in the late summer. Having cherry blossoms around gives the best springtime vibe ever. [Andrew Wyatt]

Many anecdotes give culture glimpses. The word anecdote comes through French from the Greek anekdota, which means"unpublished items". Usually it means some short narrative of such as an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident, suggests the Encyclopedia Britannica. In addition or on top of that the anecdote can be:

  • Interesting, amusing,
  • Often quite tactless and biographical - in part like a close-up picture.
  • Fairly odd or halfway so.
  • Like a sketch also.
  • Deals with intimate matters.
  • Differs from articles.
  • It can be terse, and brutal with insiders.

Many anecdotes can seem a bit tendentious (wild) at first glance, and there may be nothing wrong with that, not at all. Anecdotes are often rich sources of good points and not always easily thought of ways and deals and means.

Also, anecdotes are pointed and some are barbed. Many of them may give the impression of being somewhat lenient. Some may seem fantastic. However, anecdotes differ a whole lot. All are not pertinent, adequate, all are not quaint.

Some anecdotes may serve as "apropos" to something, while others can suggest adaptations out of hand, and alternative outlooks.

There is much more to say about them. A series of examples follow.

A Sample

1. Drifting along and caring little

An ant once climbed a big tree and got out on a branch that suddenly broke off and fell into a torrential stream. The little ant perched on top of the branch as it drifted towards the falls. All the time the little ant was grinning. Why? He thought he was driving.

Are you floating along with the stream today?

2. Dandy reply by Sir Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell was put in jail for anti-war activities during World War I. As he answered the question about his religious affiliation with the term ´┐Żagnostic´┐Ż, the jailer commented to him:

"Ah yes, we all worship him in our own way, don't we?"

3. The Three Thieves and the Box of Jewels

Three thieves stole a box of jewels and hid themselves to divide their loot. As dividing the loot was likely to take some time and they were hungry, they decided to eat first, and sent one of their number to the market to buy some food. On his way to the market he thought to himself, 'Why don't I poison the food which I shall take back with me and thus get rid of my two companions? In this way I shall keep the jewels to myself alone." He bought some rat poison that he mixed with the food he brought back to his companions.

Meanwhile, his two companions plotted that they would kill him when he came back, and have the jewels for themselves.

So when the third man returned with the food, his two companions sprang on him and murdered him. They then sat down and ate the meal he had come with. (From Cattan 2000:39-40, abr.)

4. What Ulysses was shown

Plato tells 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 is nothing for me."

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

5. The Devil's Cousin

When Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) was in administration, he proposed a person to fill a place of great trust, but which the king himself was determined should be filled by another. The council, however, resolved not to indulge the king, and it was Lord Chesterfield's business to present the grant of office for the king to sign it.

Not to incense his majesty by asking him abruptly, he asked the king what name he would be pleased to have the blanks filled up with. "With the devil's!" replied the king, in a paroxysm of rage.

"And shall the document instructions," said the earl, "run as usual: "Our trusty and well-beloved cousin and counsellor?"

This made the king laugh heartily and sign the grant. [Mark Lemon. The Jest Book, 1864, No. CLXVI]

6. The Lovely Rose

anecdotes While a violet stood pitying herself for being short, a rose said to her. "I for my part think you are lovely, little sister. Be satisfied with being just the one you are."

That afternoon a man came to the garden to take a rest, attracted by the delicate beauty and lovely smell of the rose. He cut its long, graceful neck, and just a moment later, when he had sniffed the lovely fragrance to his satisfaction, he threw the rose away.

"See?" gasped the rose to the violet.

7. Historical persons

Napoleon I (1769-1821) was born in Corsica, joined the French army and became the emperor of France for some years (1804-15). His conversational style was very predictable. Having asked his guest's name, he would usually go on with "What part of France do you come from?" and "How old are you?"

Aware of this, the deaf Duchesse de Brissac rehearsed appropriate responses. On hearing her name, however, Napoleon realised who she was and dispensed with his usual second and third questions. Remembering that her brother-in-law, the Duc de Brissac, had been killed as commander of Louis XVI's guard at Versailles in 1792, he asked whether she and her husband had inherited the estate.

"Seine-et-Oise*, sire," replied the duchess.

Slightly surprised, Napoleon pressed on with "Have you any children?"

The duchess smiled brightly. "Fifty-two, sire," she said. (Fadiman 1985:419-20)

*Seine-et-Oise: the western, northern, and southern parts of Paris.

NOTE. The anecdote follows the same ground pattern as the folk tale type classified as ATU 1968 J. This type of anecdote is about rehearsed answers and then getting other questions than expected (Cf. Uther 2004).

8. The learned and the dome

A council of learned men from various parts of the world was summoned to Florence in Italy to consult and show plans for the building a dome for the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore - a dome like that of the Pantheon in Rome. The architect Filippo Brunelleschi proposed that the man who could make an egg stand upright on a marble base should be the architect. The foreigners and artists agreed to this, but failed to make the egg stand on end.

When they wanted Brunelleschi to do it himself, he took the egg, broke the end with a gentle tap and placed it on the slab. The learned men protested that anyone else could do the same.

The architect replied with a smile that if they had seen his model, they could as easily have known how to build a dome.

In this way Brunelleschi won the competition. It was resolved that he should carry out the work of having the dome built also. However, the citizens thought that heading the undertaking was too much for one man and decided that another should be co-architect with him. Brunelleschi was angered at this that in half an hour he destroyed models that had taken him years to make, and would have left Florence too, if the artist Donatello had not talked him out of it.

The dome was built, and when it was finished, it was shaped like an egg, but flattened on the top. The success was a fact. When the dome of St. Peter's Church in Rome was built later, the dome in Florence served as its model.

The story of Brunelleschi and the egg was published fifteen years earlier than the much similar tale of Christopher Columbus and the egg. (Timbs 2015:2:21-22; Wikipedia, "Egg of Columbus")

Uses of Anecdotes

Apart from good uses there are other uses, including bad ones. Seek to limit yourself to constructive, non-fiendish uses of high-class anecdotes; it could help health and longevity (further down).


Anecdotes are usually brief and at times pointed stories folks like to tell about other people, more succinct than gossip and more respectable. Further, we may derive up to useful lessons from historical anecdotes, quite as from fables and parables.

In anecdotes there are points that many can be entertained or instructed by.

Anecdotes tell of lives and serve as a gate to common, former adaptations. It can be fun to see current and former adaptations from smarter angles than habituated ones. (3)

The anecdote is a pointed story, and a well-lived life looms very much taller.

First-class anecdotes are hardly a burden.

We do well in staying as first-class as we can master or others can absorb without being smashed or ruined from our side.

Pointed stories that show current adaptations, may be understood. (5)

"Who thinks a joke is just a joke, and seriousness only serious, he and she have in fact understood both poorly." - Rendering of the first Kumbel's Gruk by Danish Piet Hein. (6)

If common adaptations are self-humiliating, beware more than most others, or you may end up in troubles. Some troubles are slow in coming. (7)

We may look into the obvious string or chain of action in an anecdote and theme or themes that are into it and learn from it, for tall stories can reveal common adaptations well, even in offhand-looking fashion (see e.g. Rajan 1995) (8)

Deft use of anecdotes hardly make you a claqueur. To the contrary, it may help against such a lame sort of self-humiliation. 

Truths by Humour

Anecdotes are a form of narratives (stories, tales). Anecdotes fit a way of learning that may be lacking in formal schooling: learning through stories. An inborn capacity to learn and remember through stories should not be slovenly left out in an all right learning setting or curriculum.

The great entertainment value of fit and likable anecdotes, with or without biographical support to them, help in forming "memory pegs" to hang further, related learning on. Such a tip is aligned to how memory works, and learning is benefitted by stories. (Cf. Higbee 2001.

The cultural psychologist Jerome Bruner (born 1915) points out how stories address the way our memory likes to process data from outside: through well-formed stories. If entertaining, the stories are not bad! Simply put, they help learning, and also thriving. School systems that incorporate good stories for many vital points to learn, may give students access keys to the lessons by it, since stories are generally more easily remembered that abstract or unrelated points. By good tales the points get a "face" to remember, so to speak. [More] (Bruner 1996)

Anecdotes are based on real life, incidents pertaining to actual persons, famous or not, in real places. A real-life anecdote may in time be changed into a fictional anecdote, one that is retold without being all accurate or all true.

Most in this dictionary have been "pilfered" (vii) from other collections, but on the other hand there are an informative introduction, an index of themes, and a bibliography of sources. The anecdotes themselves are arranged under the name of the person they're about. That this is a reference book, however, is doubtful: More suitable for the bedside table than for the reference shelf Humorous anecdotes may not always be just jokes, and their main or somewhat hidden purpose may not simply be to evoke laughter, but to reveal some truth or higher insight of general ideas and persons in a light that may evoke insight and humour together.

An anecdote contains an illustrative incident. "Life's like that" may be one reaction among many others to a well-told anecdote.

The content of the anecdote - it is a popular and versatile literary genre - may be related to the local culture. Heinz Grothe discerns between gossip anecdotes, anecdotes of social differences, historical anecdotes, anecdotes of being fellows, and wandering anecdotes. And through anecdotal stories, country people remember funny incidents and persons, village originals, remarkable occurrences, buildings and things, says Ann Helene Skjelbred (Johnson 1997:39, 40, 41, 176).

Good points may be built into tales about comical incidents, and maybe elaborated on top of that. Also, a certain grasp of what it is that basically makes situations humorous, can assist in making embarrassing incidents, social and other blunders, and faux pas rather entertaining in time (Johnson 1997:49, 55, 56ff).

The anecdote is also understood as a story that tells something unusual about a persons or persons, a happening, or a thing. It may quote a quick-witted remark or portray an unusual happening, writes Birgit H. Johnsen. Yet it will be a product of a racounteur or author that people laugh at in such and most other cases of planned humour, quite as the Finnish Olli Alho observes (see Johnson 1997:1997, 39, 48).

In such ways as are shown here and still more ways the anecdote may be a little piece of human experience transformed into art, as Heinz Grothe notes in Anekdote (1971, p. 5ff - cf. Johnson 1997:39).

Hasidic anecdotes

A rabbi in Hasidism delivers his instructions also in the form of stories. Tales and anecdotes are authentic expressions of the doctrine and the spirituality of Hasidism. Yet it is first of all in doctrine-aiding sermons that Hasidic "rabbis" express their thought, which can be very diversified.

The Hasidic pietistic-mystical movement rose within Jewish religion in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1700s and begat a host of legend-like anecdotes that were centred in the lives, wise sayings, and miracles of such zaddiks ("prophets" of Jewish mysticism) as Dov Baer of Meseritz (dead 1772). Rather than being formally strict, severe and topic-structured stories these are rich in wit - they are anecdotes that are often borrowed from non-Jewish sources. (Silverman 1989; Ausubel 1948)

Having fun and thereby improving health

A historical anecdotes fairly often contain one original embarrassment at bottom. The fit points beneath the surface veneer in costly anecdotes may sabotage unfair might and all too common pretenders. Hence, salient and proficient use of humour can back you up. Besides, good humour is found to be good for health. (See next section)

The finest anecdotes hardly have to be good-natured, only historical.

We may derive handsome lessons and half-norms from witticism and historical anecdotes.

Mathematics-served (vector-based) half-humour is here.

What should be good to get to grips with in a standard penetration into the humour, is the main events. They tend to reveal challenges, but not all of them.

Both humour and machines should help us all to carry on. To do so, learn to make good use of them. It is no small challenge.

Laugh while you can - for health and living longer

A research study reveals that a sense of humour prolongs life for people under seventy. After that age, genetics and biological aging apparently get more of a say. Yet, as Professor Sven Svebak of NTNU [a university in Norway] holds, a sense of humour has a positive effect on our mental health and social life even after passing 70. "Humour will continue to be very important in everyday life [even then]. Mirth makes life cosier. Grandparents have an important task in teaching the young ones "friendly humour."

The professor and other researchers measured so-called friendly humour in a study of 53 500 people over a seven years period. Among those with the highest scores on a nine-step humour scale, only half as many died than among those who scored lowest. Even when the researchers divided the 53 500 persons into only two broad groups, the half with the best humour scores, had 20 percent lower mortality than the other half. Also, when the researchers checked people with serious illnesses like cancer, diabetes, heart and coronary diseases, those who scored high on sense of humour, lived longer (in average) than others. A further check brought to light that a good sense of humour worked just as well for those who felt that their health was not top as among those who felt healthy.

"A great sense of humour is probably what explains the lower mortality," Svebak sums up, and the findings are found to be valid for the population at large. Now it is documented that a sense of humour prolongs life; that is clear, says Sven Svebak.

Source: Svein Inge Meland: "A good laugh prolongs life for those under 70". Aftenposten, 5 June 2010.

Anecdotes, jokes, humour, Literature  

Ausubel, Nathan, ed. A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: The Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs. New York: Crown, 1948. ⍽▢⍽ Jewish heritage. Comprehensive.

Bruner, Jerome: The Culture of Education. Cambridge. Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. ⍽▢⍽ Bruner reveals how education can usher children into their culture, though it often fails to do so. Narrative [tales] may serve meaning making, and embody culture. Further, a good story may permit us to understand the present, the past, and perhaps what is within reach for a human.

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 Faber Book of Anecdotes. London: Faber and Faber, 1985. (The latest edition,The Little, Brown Book of Anecdote, is from 2009.) ⍽▢⍽ Over 4000 brief and entertaining anecdotes about more than two thousand interesting people, ranging from US presidents to Greek philosophers to entertainers and sports figures. The anecdotes range from moving to amusing and ridiculous. Sources are given where possible, and some the anecdotes are followed by a cautionary note that they have been told of others too, or are apocryphal.

Feynman, Richard P. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Adventures of a Curious Character as Told to Ralph Leighton. Ed. Edward Hutchings. New York: Bantam, 1986. ⍽▢⍽ A series of entertaining anecdotes by one of this century's greatest scientific minds and winner of the Nobel Prize in physics. An independent individual recounts.

Fuller, Edmund. 2500 Anecdotes for All Occasions. New York: Wings, 1970. ⍽▢⍽ Entertaining stories.

Gates, W. Francis. Anecdotes of Great Musicians: Three Hundred Anecdotes and Biographical Sketches of Famous Composers and Performers. London: Weekes and Co, 1996.

Higbee, Kenneth L. Your Memory: How It Works and How to Improve It. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2001. ⍽▢⍽ On memory improvement, with research evidence to back up the suggestions. Higbee also warns that these aren't always worth your time. Memory tools in it may be life changing and worth your time spent on mastering them.

Johnsen, Birgit Hertzberg. Hva ler vi av? Om nordmenns forhold til humor (What Do We Laugh at? About Norwegians' Relationship to Humor). Oslo: Pax, 1997.

Kothare, A. L, et al. Of Science and Scientists. Rev. ed. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1997. ⍽▢⍽ An anthology of anecdotes.

Lemon, Mark. The Jest Book: The Choicest Anecdotes and Jokes. Urbana, IL: Gutenberg eBook, 2007 (1865) ⍽▢⍽ This collection give ample evidence that as anecdotes get a century and a half old, some lose interest and others seem at best only remotely entertaining, while others still "taste good".

Murty, K. Krishna. Spice in Science: The Best of Science Funnies. Delhi: Pustak Mahal, 2006. ⍽▢⍽ A selection of anecdotes about scientists. Recommended.

Rajan, Chandra, tr. Visnu Sarma: The Panchatantra. London: Penguin Classics, 1995.

Rescher, Nicholas. A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press, 2015. ⍽▢⍽ The books illustrates how anecdotes can inform and encourage philosophical thought. It contains philosophical anecdotes from antiquity to the current era. Major thinkers figure here, and questions of such as meaning and ethics. It is also a book on philosophical inquiry and views.

Silverman, William B. The Sages Speak: Rabbinic Wisdom and Jewish Values. London: Aronson, 1989.

Timbs, John. Anecdotes about Authors and Artists. Parts 1 and 2. Reprint ed. London: Forgotten Books, 2015. ⍽▢⍽ The first edition is from the 1800s.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

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