Anecdoche

In an essay entitled ‘What Do We Do About A Woman With A Penis‘ by Cassie Brighter, she writes:

Anecdoche — I stumbled into this word recently. It defines that condition when everyone is talking, and no one is listening. I see people expressing very polarized, angry views. I see people speaking from hurt, from fear and from hate.

For a moment I was slightly shocked that I had only just learnt the word now. It’s so useful and apt for the way online discourse (and indeed, political discourse in general) seems to unfold right now that it should be in common use.

It turns out that the word is a deliberate neologism, an invention of the Dictionary is Obscure Sorrows, a creation of John Koenig. Here’s his version:

a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.

While it’s great to be able to express this concept, it’s also slightly annoying, because the word does not mean what one might expect it to mean. Anecdoche is clearly a portmanteau of ‘anecdote’ and ‘synecdoche’.

  • An anecdote is an account of a personal experience, usually retold to make a point or reveal some truth;
  • Synecdoche is a part that stands for the whole. “Send me fifty swords” to mean, “send fifty people armed with swords”.

So an anecdoche could be a single story that becomes a stand-in for, and accepted truth of a particular issue.

This would be a useful word to have because this sort of thing happens all the time in political debates. It’s particularly relevant to transgender activism, which appears to have been reduced to a single, unhelpful question, over whether trans women should be able to use women’s toilets and gym changing rooms. The issue is way more complex and interesting than that.