Today’s Word Nerd was suggested by my brother, Don Hughes, the best building inspector in San Jose, a gentleman and a scholar and a darn fine judge of Tennessee walking horses and Kentucky whiskey. He stumbled upon this troublesome pair of words when his wife rescued him from the error.
elude: to avoid or escape; evade
allude: to make a casual or indirect reference
allusion: the noun form of allude
illusion: something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality; a magic trick
Allude (and with it, allusion) first appears around 1525; it comes from the Latin alludere, meaning “to play beside.”
Elude comes from around the same time, also from Latin; eludere, “to deceive, evade.”
Illusion is a couple of hundred years older, from Middle English, in this case also by way of Latin, the word illudere, meaning “to mock, ridicule.” Apparently the Romans didn’t like being fooled.
If you say the criminal alluded capture, you’re saying he obliquely referenced capture.
If you say the speaker eluded to Star Wars, you’re saying he avoided referencing Star Wars.