An anachronism is something that occurs out of its proper time. The chronological error of an anachronism can occur in either direction: it can result from something from the past being represented as if it belonged in the present, like an archaism, or it can result from presenting something at a time before it actually appeared, occurred, or existed.
Accidental anachronism can be a source of embarrassment. Some people make a hobby of finding all kinds of mistakes in movies, and ahistorical information – both errors of fact and anachronisms – are categories people search for. For example, a rabbi reports in a review on Amazon that the use of a Yiddish accent in the movie The Ten Commandments (1956) is anachronistic because Yiddish did not develop until the Middle Ages.
The use of planned anachronism can be a source of creativity and humor. In theatre, an anachronistic setting can bring out new or different elements of a play. This is a frequent practice: with, for example, Sophocles’ play Antigone being presented in Australia in 1996 with a production that set the action in Sarajevo, and Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night being presented in London in 2004 with the action moved to a setting in India.
Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is one of a number of books that use time travel as a way to explore the humor and ingenuity that can accompany anachronism. In this satire, Twain’s hero, Hank, is a 19th century New Englander who wakes up in sixth century England in the court of King Arthur. Caught in a time and place before his birth, he still has his knowledge of 13 centuries of as-yet-unlived history to draw on as he tries to make his way in society. Anachronism in fictional settings is also used in film spoofs, for example Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Shrek (2001).
The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an international organization, promotes continued knowledge and understanding of pre-17th century Europe through research, re-creation, and reenactment. Through purposeful study of the past, the SCA aims to provide insight into three main areas: combat and chivalry, arts and sciences, and heraldry. Their reenactments — purposeful displays of anachronism — center on combat, competition, and equestrian exhibitions, as well as symposiums, fairs, and seasonal or holiday celebrations.