A Definition

  • an indirect hint (reference) to something well-known (like a person, place, event, or work of art or literature)

Notable Examples:

  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's narrator (Jean Louise Finch) states that "Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself."
    • This is an allusion to a famous speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, given at his inauguration in 1933, where Roosevelt says that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
    • In saying just that one line, Lee establishes the entire setting and mood - it was during the Great Depression and the country was fighting to emerge from economic ruin. She expected the readers to know these things as soon as they read the line about fear.
  • You and your friends likely make allusions all the time, when you drop quotes from your favorite movies into casual conversation, or when you use inside jokes.
  • Popular works to which writers allude most often include the Bible, Shakespeare's plays, and Greek mythology.

Why it's used

  • The speaker expects the listener to understand what is being referred to and its original context, allowing the speaker/writer to say a lot simply by hinting at it

Point of Clarity

An allusion is different than a reference. An allusion hints at something indirectly, whereas a reference mentions it specifically. The following example may clarify the difference:
  • Allusion: "We the people demand our rights, which includes saying what we think about the government, no matter how unflattering!" (That alludes to the constitution's preamble and the writer expects the reader to know that, even though it does not specifically refer to the fact.)
  • Reference: "We have the right to bear arms, as stated in the second amendment in our Constitution's Bill of Rights." (That is a reference, stating precisely to what the writer is referring, which is the second amendment in the Bill of Rights.

Students' Examples

When ever a friend would say "your mom" I would laugh, because in 8th grade that was an inside joke between me and a friend because a friend sdaid that he likes to buttor his toast and then I said that his mom likes to butter my toast.
During election time my friends would all say vote for Pedro
Ok so last year in algebra 1 my teacher was explaining how you can't devide by zero no matter what. So after she got done explaining it I said Chuck Norris can divide by zero.
One day in gym we were playing dodge ball and I threw a ball at a kid, and hit him in the head and my friend said boom headshot.
When I was in 7th grade my friend had a crush on a girl at locker 284. Now every time someone tells me that they have a crush on someone I say locker 284.
In dodgeball when I hit two people I say double kill like Halo 3
Your learning Martial arts; then wax on wax off.
I always ask my friend. "how long did it take to grow that mustach?" and he says " uuh couple of days"
Epic Movie alludes to Pirates of the Carribbean when he escapes from jail and gets on the ship.
From James Bond when someone says thier name like Burton, Dylon Burton
Whenever my cousin or my friend is trying to drift onto on ramps on, or in parking lots, or something, I always say "if you can beat 180k, they don't bother" off of fast and furious: Tokyo Drift
When making the old style of Nesquik powder chocolate milk I couldn't find a clean spoon to mix it with so I said I prefered it "shaken not stirred"