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Stylistic Devices – Allusion

indirect reference to a person, event or piece of literature

Allusion is used to explain or clarify a complex problem. Note that allusion works best if you keep it short and refer to something the reader / audience is familiar with, e.g.:

  • famous people
  • history
  • (Greek) mythology
  • literature
  • the bible

If the audience is familiar with the event or person, they will also know background and context. Thus, just a few words are enough to create a certain picture (or scene) in the readers minds. The advantages are as follows:

  • We dont need lengthy explanations to clarify the problem.
  • The reader becomes active by reflecting on the analogy.
  • The message will stick in the reader's mind.


  • the Scrooge Syndrome (allusion on the rich, grieve and mean Ebeneezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens Christmas Carol)
  • The software included a Trojan Horse. (allusion on the Trojan horse from Greek mythology)
  • Plan ahead. It was not raining when Noah built the Ark. (Richard Cushing) (allusion on the biblical Ark of Noah)

Many allusions on historic events, mythology or the bible have become famous idioms.


  • to meet ones Waterloo (allusion on Napoleons defeat in the Battle of Waterloo)
  • to wash ones hands of it. (allusion on Pontius Pilatus, who sentenced Jesus to death, but washed his hands afterwards to demonstrate that he was not to blame for it.)
  • to be as old as Methusalem (allusion on Josephs grandfather, who was 969 years old according to the Old Testament)
  • to guard sth with Arguss eyes (allusion on the giant Argus from Greek mythology, who watched over Zeus lover Io.)