Adjective > Anecdotal

The word “anecdote” comes from a Greek one meaning “things unpublished.” Inside “anecdote,” you can see two Greek roots: an, “not,” and ekdotos, “published,” or more literally, “given out.” So enjoy a good chuckle of irony whenever you see a publication titled “An Anecdotal History of Such-and-Such.”

(“Anecdote” looks a bit like the words “dose” and “antidote” because they all share that Greek root, didonai, “to give.” A dose is literally a “giving,” and an antidote is literally a “giving against.”)

To tell an anecdote is to tell a short little interesting story about some event in your life. By their nature, anecdotes are unreliable: we often lie, exaggerate, or misremember when we tell anecdotes; and, of course, the more times we access the memory we’re describing, and the more times the description travels from one person to another, the more it warps.

Something anecdotal, then, has anecdotes, is full of anecdotes, or is based on anecdotes.

In other words, something anecdotal involves retellings of little events from people’s lives–and therefore is unreliable, likely to be at least partly false.

ANN uck DOTE ull

Part of speech:
Adjective: anecdotal accounts,” “the evidence is anecdotal.”

Other forms worth knowing:
anecdote(s), anecdotally

How to use it:
We might use this word in a positive or neutral way to talk about someone’s anecdotal style or humor, about anecdotal records, documents, biographies and so on.

Most often, though, this word has a cold, scientific, slightly doubtful or dismissive tone.

Talk about anecdotal tests, cases, reports, accounts, experiences, testimony, recollections, information, proof, support, evidence, suggestions, and indications.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence stating that CBD helps reduce pain, anxiety, and insomnia.”
— Marketplace team, Salon, 12 March 2019

“There’s a website of victims that says it’s ‘in honor of the thousands of American citizens killed each year by Illegal Aliens.’ There are entries as recently as January, but fewer than 300 people are listed even though entries date as far back as 1994. The anecdotal stories are moving, but one would expect a much longer list if thousands of people were really killed each year.”
— Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post, 21 February 2019