al·​lu·​sion ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio)
: an implied or indirect reference especially in literature
a poem that makes allusions to classical literature
also : the use of such references
: the act of making an indirect reference to something : the act of alluding to something

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What is the word origin of allusion?

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

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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.”

Example Sentences

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Considering the concert was the first after a nearly two-week break in the tour schedule, Swift’s off-the-cuff remarks may have been a cryptic allusion to news of her breakup with longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn going public. Glenn Rowley, Billboard, 14 Apr. 2023 The quip is an apparent allusion to China’s Xinjiang region, where the U.S. says there’s an ongoing genocide against the the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group and where the United Nations confirms there’s evidence authorities force detainees to work. Derek Saul, Forbes, 6 Feb. 2023 That’s an allusion to Pauline Atkins, the Eagle Rock resident who led two previous unsuccessful attempts to recall De León based largely on her distaste for his homeless policy and has posted pro-Trump messages on her Facebook page. Los Angeles Times, 1 Feb. 2023 Federal prosecutors have accused a prison escapee of sending a letter with threats to kill President Biden and the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, among others, and containing a white powder with an allusion to anthrax. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 21 Oct. 2022 Though many interpreted that figure as an allusion to weed, the tweet caused Tesla’s stock to jump. Miles Klee, Rolling Stone, 13 Apr. 2023 And there are lines that can clearly be heard as allusions to our contemporary challenges. Michael Paulson, New York Times, 22 Mar. 2023 That imagery encapsulated Zelensky’s mastery of historical allusion and public relations theater. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 22 Dec. 2022 The ethos holding the band together is one of experimentation and fond allusion rather than loyalty to any one vision. Rachel Syme, The New Yorker, 1 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'allusion.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of allusion was in 1542


Dictionary Entries Near allusion

Cite this Entry

“Allusion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


al·​lu·​sion ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio)
: a reference made to something that is not directly mentioned
the book contains many allusions to earlier books
allusive adjective
allusively adverb
allusiveness noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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