al·​lu·​sion | \ ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio) \

Definition of allusion

1 : an implied or indirect reference especially in literature a poem that makes allusions to classical literature also : the use of such references
2 : the act of making an indirect reference to something : the act of alluding to something

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Allusion and Illusion

Allusion and illusion may share some portion of their ancestry (both words come in part from the Latin word ludere, meaning “to play”), and sound quite similar, but they are distinct words with very different meanings. An allusion is an indirect reference, whereas an illusion is something that is unreal or incorrect. Each of the nouns has a related verb form: allude “to refer indirectly to,” and illude (not a very common word), which may mean “to delude or deceive” or “to subject to an illusion.”

What is the word origin of allusion?

Allusion was borrowed into English in the middle of the 16th century. It derives from the Latin verb alludere, meaning "to refer to, to play with, or to jest," as does its cousin allude, meaning "to make indirect reference" or "to refer." Alludere, in turn, derives from a combination of the prefix ad- and ludere ("to play"). Ludere is a Latin word that English speakers have enjoyed playing with over the years; we've used it to create collude, delude, elude, and prelude, to name just a few.

Examples of allusion in a Sentence

There are lots of literary echoes and allusions in the novel, but they don't do anything for the tired texture of the prose. — Tony Tanner, New York Times Book Review, 6 Apr. 1997 So while the former engineering professor with an IQ reportedly tipping 180 enjoys bombarding his staff with math wizardry, scientific jargon and computerese, he also drops frequent allusions to his baseball card and stamp collections … — Maureen Dowd, New York Times Magazine, 16 Sept. 1990 To my ear this is a beautiful reenactment of the prose of the antebellum South, with its careful grammar, its stately cadences, and its classical allusions and quotations. — Cleanth Brooks, The Language of the American South, 1985 The lyrics contain biblical allusions. She made allusion to her first marriage.
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Recent Examples on the Web At this month’s meeting, Mitchell, who is a vocal advocate for public comment, rebuked an animal rights activist for using a George Floyd allusion about the racing industry during public comment time. John Cherwa, Los Angeles Times, "Wendy Mitchell wins new term on California Horse Racing Board in Senate revote," 29 Apr. 2021 The company’s name is an allusion to that search, which many have compared to the quest for the Holy Grail. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Next chapter of FTC’s battle with Illumina to play out in San Diego," 21 Apr. 2021 Some scholars suspect that the image represents an allusion to the biblical resurrection. Livia Gershon, Smithsonian Magazine, "Was This Ornament of a Knight Emerging From a Snail Shell a ‘Medieval Meme’?," 24 Mar. 2021 Grail’s name is an allusion to this search, which researchers have compared to the quest for the Holy Grail. Mike Freeman, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Illumina to fight FTC efforts to block $7.1 billion buyout of cancer diagnostic firm Grail," 1 Apr. 2021 Those characters address Henry with a mixture of intimacy and hostility, literary allusion and slangy babytalk. Kamran Javadizadeh, The New York Review of Books, "‘The Roots of Our Madness’," 23 Mar. 2021 Whereas artist Temi Coker’s submission speaks directly to Black representation, Robinson’s design carries a more subtle allusion. Laura Zornosa, Los Angeles Times, "The Oscars artwork is as diverse as its noms. Michelle Robinson adds an L.A. flair," 29 Mar. 2021 Every individual mentioned, every literary, historical and political allusion, every place-name, every military unit on both sides, every Arabic expression is fully footnoted. Andrew Roberts, WSJ, "‘The River War’ Review: Churchill and the Battle That Shaped Him," 26 Mar. 2021 The quote is reportedly an allusion to the French title of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Halle Kiefer, Vulture, "French Actress Corinne Masiero Dons Donkey Costume, Strips Nude In César Awards Protest," 13 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'allusion.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of allusion

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for allusion

Late Latin allusion-, allusio, from Latin alludere — see allude

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Time Traveler for allusion

Time Traveler

The first known use of allusion was in 1542

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Last Updated

7 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Allusion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for allusion



English Language Learners Definition of allusion

: a statement that refers to something without mentioning it directly


al·​lu·​sion | \ ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio) \

Kids Definition of allusion

: a statement that refers to something without mentioning it directly

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