Monday, January 31, 2011

What’s it called?

I’ve noticed a confusion in terms lately. I, along with several friends of mine, have recently put out volumes of short stories. We’re taking advantage of the ease of self-publication. And besides, it’s fun. But some have called these collections, some have called them anthologies. Which term is correct?

In my home office, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary usually lies on the floor at my feet, ready for my beck and call. Just now I reached down and pulled it up. Here’s what it says.

anthology: a collection of selected literary pieces or passages or works of art or music

collection: something collected; esp: an accumulation of objects gathered for study, comparison, or exhibition.

Well, that doesn’t clarify anything. The convention I’ve been following is that the word anthology is used when the stories are by different authors and the word collection is used when all the stories in a book are by the same author.

Turning to the Great God Wiki, I found the following at

An anthology is a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. It may be a collection of poems, short stories, plays, songs, or excerpts. In genre fiction anthology is used to categorize collections of shorter works such as short stories and short novels, usually collected into a single volume for publication.

I had to turn to the Lesser God Wiktionary for the definition of collection at

collection (plural collections)
  1. set of items or objects procured or gathered together by a person, group, or other agent.
The attic contains a remarkable collection of antiques, oddities, and random junk.
The asteroid belt consists of a collection of dust, rubble, and minor planets.
  1. Multiple related objects associated as a group.
He has a superb coin collection.
  1. The activity of collecting.
Collection of trash will occur every Thursday.
  1. (topology, analysis) A set of sets.

I can’t see any basis here for the way the terms are being currently used for short story books, but I will bow to common current usage and keep referring to multiple-author books as anthologies, and will consider that I’m correctly calling mine a collection. I won’t call anyone wrong who uses other terms, though.

Pictures are in the public domain and taken from


  1. Hmm. I had never thought about the distinction. I think your usage makes sense, though. Is there also a frequency component? For example, the Level Best anthology comes out once a year. How often do journals have to come out to be a journal and not an anthology, when otherwise the journal is a collection of short stories by different authors? Food for thought.


  2. Journal? I didn't even consider journal! The waters are muddying further, Edith. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. To me, if there are works from more than one author it is an Anthology. If all the works in the book come from one author that is a collection.

    A journal has to be published several times a year to be a journal. If it only comes out once a year, it is not a journal.

  4. To me, too, Kevin. But where is this written? And why did we adopt this usage? Can you tell I started out to be a linguist? :)

  5. Kay,
    I don't know if you ever resolved the question of multiple terminology being use to designate volumes of short stories, & so on. This thread is 2yrs old. I found my self asking this question today wanting to be accurate in using a particular term to define specific types off collected works in the lit. world. For example, collected poetry by one vs. an assortment of misc. written works by one, or by multiple authors.
    I thought a std. of ref. for lit. type might exist. I've had no success. However, I did find an additional definition for "anthology".
    Anthology can also be defined as a collection of various/selected works from one author...per Ox.Eng.Dic. I checked the usage in articles. It's diverse there as well.

  6. EG, that throws a monkey wrench into the ring (to mix metaphors a bit)! I've seen many people get corrected when they use "anthology" for a single author. Apparently, the term is even less standard than I thought. Thanks for checking in!