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 It is layered with allusion and wordplay; in it Valéry compressed various classical myths and recombined them with the work of French literary masters from Corneille to Mallarmé. Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books, "The Dream of Pure Expression," 17 Nov. 2020 His answer was grounded in reality — but still teased A&M fans with a CFP allusion. Brent Zwerneman,, "Too bad an impromptu Texas A&M-Ohio State game is mere fantasy," 9 Dec. 2020 The main antagonist is Russian spy Perseus, a mysterious figure whose name is an allusion to another mystery. Todd Martens,, "Review: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’: Patriot games with a dose of guilt," 26 Nov. 2020 The diplomat’s allusion to the retaliation comes in the wake of Huawei officials calling for London to change course following the defeat of President Trump in the 2020 presidential elections. Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, "China threatens economic pain for UK over Huawei crackdown as Trump exit looms," 26 Nov. 2020 An allusion to a simpler time, however rooted in nostalgia (or misaligned) that may be. New York Times, "A Night at the Sock Hop," 20 Nov. 2020 The title was an allusion to clubs padlocked for selling liquor during Prohibition. Ron Grossman,, "Flashback: Tex Guinan danced her way through Chicago — until it killed her," 20 Nov. 2020 Trump said, in what appeared to be an allusion to suggestions that Esper was a yes man for the president. Robert Burns, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump tweets he has ‘terminated’ Defense Secretary Mark Esper," 9 Nov. 2020 Trump said, in what appeared to be an allusion to suggestions that Esper was a yes man for the president. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Trump fires Mark Esper as Pentagon chief after election defeat," 9 Nov. 2020

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

6 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Allusion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for allusion


How to pronounce allusion (audio)

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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