Where does the word “anecdote” come from and What does it mean?

Justinian, emperor of the Byzantine Empire from A.D. 527 to 565, was one of the few really great emperors of that division of the old Roman Empire.

He is noted especially for the framing of the legal code, since known the Justinian Code.

Among the attendants at his court was the historian, Procopius, who, when he had completed a history of the wars waged during the reign of his emperor, wrote also an account of the many structures erected by his master.

Now Justinian, though professedly a Christian monarch, indulged in or permitted many of the vices and excesses common to Oriental courts of the period, and Procopius had an observant eye and a satiric pen. He knew the inside lives of the persons of the court, and he was moved to indulge his satire and to write brief accounts of some of the incidents he had observed concerning the emperor, his wife, Theodora, and other eminent persons.

Some of his tales were witty and pleasant, but most of them were indecent or absurd. Possibly he did not intend that the tales should ever be published, because he gave them the title, Anecdota, a Greek word meaning “unpublished, kept secret.”

The manuscript was published, however, and the term thereafter meant a brief true story about someone or some event.

Early anecdotes, like those of Procopius, related to persons or events connected with court life, but the term is now used for any short story assumed to be fact.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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