Are we losing our fondness for witty quips? TOM MOULE explains why we should never let go of the great human invention that is the anecdote.

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Anecdotes easily rank alongside the wheel, sliced bread and Peggy Mitchell as some of man’s greatest inventions.

They allow one to have the same conversation time and time again, making you seem consistently vibrant and interesting with minimal effort. What’s more, they are riveting to behold, providing a unique way of immersing oneself in other people’s existences.

A friend and I had a great laugh the other day as he recalled the adventures of his 14 year-old self trying to gatecrash a girl’s-only slumber party (only to be franticly shoed off by an irate mother). He had undoubtedly recounted this event numerous times, but the fact that it was witty, personal, well delivered, and appropriately tailored for the audience meant that that just didn’t matter. These are the pivotal factors that good anecdotes must adhere to. Stray far from this line and the consequences could be awful.

A powerful classic anecdote has much potential as a powerful social lubricant.  Throwing in a good tale about the time you apprehended a shop lifter at work might have really helped punctuate Freshers’ Week’s the monotonous stream of :“Who are you?” “Where are you from?” “Do you like toast?”

But, anecdotes are an endangered species.  With the rise of “neo-classical anecdotal discourse” (talking about any dull thing that comes into mind)  people are becoming so content with reliving what they had for breakfast, which knife they used, how long it took them to spread the butter, that there is no place for wildly embellished stories anymore. “Did I tell you about the time I made a jam sandwich?” a friend might ask. Perhaps not, but you won’t be listening anyway, because it’s not particularly interesting.

Society is now faced with an important decision. Do we continue letting people tell us about the various zebra-crossings they’ve happened upon? Should we give up on the story telling and instead recount our past in straight facts? Perhaps we should stop talking altogether and choose to communicate in interpretive dance?

The latter is the best bet. However, I’m not prepared to see anecdotes disappear without a fight.

Witty anecdotes of old are leagues above chat-up lines and can really sow the seeds of something special. They allow your personality to permeate through an adorned membrane of charm.  After all, they say laughter is an aphrodisiac. It probably doesn’t apply when you’re graphically depicting the time you sexually assaulted a lamppost, but it does elsewhere.

A decline in anecdotes corresponds with a decline in humour.  Normalising boring nonsense in our interactions removes the incentive to amuse. Go on to your Facebook account and you’ll see what I mean.

After logging in I am suddenly confronted by:

– One person informing me that he’s slowly going off olives:

– Someone LOLing over their neighbour’s cat’s cuteness (with an unspeakably dull picture of said cat attached):

– And a man who’s debating whether or not to go to the toilet!

The only modicum of debauchery is a picture of someone’s curry-stained shirt, unimaginatively entitled “banter”:


????So, what should we do to conserve our traditional ways of conversing?

Firstly, practise makes perfect.  I suggest everyone fabricates some engrossing anecdote and tell it to the next person they see. It doesn’t matter whether it happened or not; verisimilitude is not what’s important here. The immediate concern should be the superficial splendour of speech; we’ll have to work on the truth part later.

Secondly, boycott meaningless drivel. If someone tries to tell you about the shortage of mineral water at Sainsbury’s, you should literally get up and walk away. These steps will be necessary if we are to overcome this adversity.

If we all work indefatigably then we can revitalise our interactions with each other. It’s going to be a tough battle, but it’s an important cause. Talking is an indispensable component of humanity and we should not allow it to slip into decline.

Illustration by Esther Harding