Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 21 05:29:29 UTC 2002

At 11:50 AM -0500 1/21/02, James A. Landau wrote:
>In a message dated 01/16/2002 9:26:34 PM Eastern Standard Time,
>carljweber at MSN.COM writes:
>>  Calling evidence of Amerindian anthropophagy merely anecdotal, and not
>>   representative of Amerindian culture, seems the only refutation to my offer
>>   of evidence, but maybe there are others.
>This is an interesting use of the word "anecdotal".  OED2 has no meaning for
>either "anecdotal" or "anecdote" that comes close (OED2 has three definitions
>for "anecdote": 1) hitherto unpublished narrative 2) narrative of a single
>event told as being in itself interesting or striking 3) from art: a painting
>etc that depicts a small incident).  M-W 10th Collegiate has one additional
>definition: "based on or consisting of reports or obsdervations of usu.
>unscientific observers (~ evidence)" which is a common usage in scientific
>reports but does not really fit here.
>What does carljweber mean by "anecdotal".  The context here is tricky, since
>he is rebutting statements in a previous letter that do not contain the word
>"anecdotal".  Apparently he means to describe reports as being second- or
>third-hand, written long after the fact, collected from unreliable witnesses,
>or otherwise carrying a presumption of unreliability.  I.e. "mere anecdotes
>rather than reliable first-hand reports".
Is this use really different from the one from M-W 10 above?
Similarly, AHD4 has

2. Based on casual observations or indications rather than rigorous
or scientific analysis: "There are anecdotal reports of children
poisoned by hot dogs roasted over a fire of the [oleander] stems" (C.
Claiborne Ray, New York Times October 10, 1995).

which is pretty lively as cites go.  I don't see that 'describ[ing]
reports as being second- or third-hand, written long after the fact,
collected from unreliable witnesses, or otherwise carrying a
presumption of unreliability' is really a distinct sense from these,
it's just one way in which an unsystematic, unrigorous and therefore
(relatively) unreliable observation can be made.  It's true that this
sense should be given (and tracked) in the OED, but I think the other
dictionaries have carlj's use covered, at least implicitly.

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