a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. It does not describe in detail the person or thing to which it refers. It is just a passing comment and the writer expects the reader to possess enough knowledge to spot the allusion and grasp its importance in a text.

Allusion Examples in Everyday Speech

The use allusions are not confined to literature alone. Their occurrence is fairly common in our daily speech. Look at some common allusion examples in everyday life:

  • “Don’t act like a Romeo in front of her.”
    1. – “Romeo” is a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo, a passionate lover of Juliet, in “Romeo and Juliet”.
  • The rise in poverty will unlock the Pandora’s box of crimes.
    1. – This is an allusion to one of Greek Mythology’s origin myth, “Pandora’s box”.
  • “This place is like a Garden of Eden.”
    1. –This is a biblical allusion to the “garden of God” in the Book of Genesis.
  • “Hey! Guess who the new Newton of our school is?”
    1. – “Newton”, means a genius student, alludes to a famous scientist Isaac Newton.
  • “Stop acting like my ex-husband please.”
    1. – Apart from scholarly allusions we refer to common people and places in our speech.

      Function of Allusion
  • By and large, the use of allusions enables writers or poets to simplify complex ideas and emotions. The readers comprehend the complex ideas by comparing the emotions of the writer or poet to the references given by them. Furthermore, the references to Greek Mythology give a dreamlike and magical touch to the works of art. Similarly, biblical allusions appeal to the readers with religious backgrounds.

Sometimes I have an Annie/Helen water pump moment.

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"An allusion which is explained no longer has the charm of allusion . . . In divulging the mystery, you withdraw its virtue. " --Jean Paulhan
Does art imitate life, or does life immitate art? 

Allusion is a figure of speech, a literary device that makes a reference to a person, event, or place, real or ficticious, or to a work of art. Casual reference to a famous historical or literary figure or event. The reference is often indirect. An allusion may be drawn from history, geography, literature, or religion. The effectiveness of allusions relies upon the reader or listener's familiarity with the reference and their ability to make the connection--the meaning behind the words. Understanding allusions often require a degree of cultural literacy. If two or more people share an experience, one can allude to the experience and the other will know what they are talking about while everyone around them remain clueless. Typically allusions stimulate associations. 

For example, Martin Luther King, Jr.alluded to the Gettysburg Address in starting his "I Have a Dream" speech by saying 'Five score years ago..."; his hearers were immediately reminded of Abraham Lincoln's "Four score and seven years ago", which opened the Gettysburg Address. King's allusion effectively called up parallels in two historic moments.

An allusion may become trite and stale through unthinking overuse, devolving into a mere cliché

Etymology:  comes from the Latin allūsiō (“the act of playing with”).

Guess what these examples are alluding to:
President Obama said "ask not just what our government can do for us, but we an do for ourselves." 2008

Oh stop being such a Romeo!

Her love of sweets was her Achilles heel.

In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan is an allusion to Jesus Christ. 

Harriet Tubman was called the Moses of her times. 

To act or not to act, that was Jordan's dilemma. 

Phone home!

It seems like it has rained for 40 days and 40 nights. 

Christy didn't like to spend money. She was no Scrooge, but she seldom purchased anything except the bare necessities.

The cave's roof collapsed, he was swallowed up in the dust like Jonah.

The restaurant was weird and I didn't know what to expect next; I wouldn't have been surprised if a blond little girl jumped out and started tasting all of our soups to find one that was "just right." 

He offered me the forbidden fruit my mom told me not to eat (candy) but I wanted it so bad.

"I'll be back!"

Tilting at windmills is a waste of time. 

It should read: "the fish I caught was THIS big."

One example is Nemo in "Finding Nemo." His name comes from 
the captain of th boat in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." 

Write a paragraph making an allusion to one of the characters below (or to something of your choice but it must be identifiable. 
  • The Three Stooges were a comedy team of not-too-bright buffoons.
  • Benedict Arnold was an American traitor.
  • The 'cowardly lion' from the Wizard of Oz was a coward.
  • Judas betrayed Jesus.
  • Mother Teresa was a nun who selflessly devoted her life to caring for the poor and sick.
  • Don Quixote was a fictional hero; a dreamer who was always going on quests to try to accomplish impossible tasks.