I do not understand how allusions 'indirectly' mention something. I have looked at examples of allusions, and the allusions I have seen seem to directly mention something. The site below: http://www.softschools.com/examples/grammar/allusion_examples/115/ has a list of allusions. Can someone please explain allusions to me?

  • The dictionaries disagree over this one. CDO has a broader definition for the term as usually used in the UK, not demanding the 'indirectly referencing' restriction: 'allusion noun [ C ] UK ​ ... something that is said or written that is intended to make you think of a particular thing or person Their definition for the usual US usage is in between: 'a brief or indirect reference: He made some allusion to the years they lived apart.' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 5 '16 at 16:01
  • 2
    "Please explain allusion" is too broad. You have found a site which [supposedly] does that. What specifically do you not understand about what it says? Have you looked for any other examples or teaching? – Andrew Leach Aug 5 '16 at 16:03
  • The site you link to uses the tighter, 'indirect reference' sense. eg 'Your backyard is a Garden of Eden.' rather than 'Your backyard must be a bit like the Garden of Eden mentioned in Genesis: everything orderly and beautifully arranged, with no signs of death or decay, no weeds or biting insects.' [Possibly a snake.] – Edwin Ashworth Aug 5 '16 at 16:08
  • 2
    @AndrewLeach Yes, the question is problematic, but your request is difficult to reply to. That's the point, they don't understand it. It's difficult to say what it is they don't understand because they don't understand. That's the nature of not understanding. – Mitch Aug 5 '16 at 16:09
  • 1
    (Net-net: The meaning of allusion is difficult to understand because even experts can't clearly describe it -- the meaning is rather ethereal.) – Hot Licks Aug 5 '16 at 16:21

Here's an example of an allusion that seems to me to be fairly indirect:

Stanley is flying a kite on a cloudy day. Ollie walks up to him and says, "Caught any electricity yet, Ben?"

The allusion here is to Benjamin Franklin and more specifically to his famous experiment involving a kite and a key, conducted (so to speak) during a thunderstorm. In the allusion above, the kite, the key, the thunderstorm, the lightning, and the full name Benjamin Franklin all go unmentioned. To understand what Ollie is alluding to, you have to recognize that "Ben" refers to Franklin and then you have to recognize that Ollie is drawing a connection between Franklin's experiment and Stanley's kite flying on a cloudy day.

This is how allusions work in day-to-day situations—and often, as here, they only hint at the thing they allude to. You might argue that "Ben" is a direct reference to Benjamin Franklin; but taken at face value in the original sentence, "Ben" functions as a term of address to Stanley. In another situation, Ollie might use that same term of address to equate Stanley's behavior with that of, say, the leader of a band of killer rats. Ollie's statement doesn't make sense unless you get the allusion.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Ah. Another fine mess. – Andrew Leach Aug 5 '16 at 20:25
  • @AndrewLeach: Truly, we live in a world of allusion. – Sven Yargs Aug 5 '16 at 20:51
  • @AndrewLeach Laurel and Hardy? (Trying to find the connection.) – Lawrence Aug 6 '16 at 0:13
  • This would be a good answer, but the OP is asking about a particular, but unspecified type of allusion (possibly, in this case, an 'indirect allusion', or 'indirect historical allusion'), and you're answering as if the type of 'allusion' at issue has been specified. See my comment (and close-vote) on the question. – JEL Aug 6 '16 at 0:38
  • 1
    @Lawrence Yes, although I was thinking of their short films which used to appear on TV and which I seem to have misquoted. I don't think Sven's quote actually appeared on film. His reply appears to have originated in around 1829. – Andrew Leach Aug 6 '16 at 8:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.