HomeLiterary Allusions

Match each allusion with its correct definition.

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Complete the sentences with appropriate allusions from the previous task.

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Paraphrase the following definition.

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  Visit Oxford Dictionaries to check the meanings of the following words and phrases:
  • womanizer, libertine, (informal) skirt-chaser
  • barbarian, hooligan, savage
  • unworldly, non-materialistic, non-material, immaterial; idealistic, starry-eyed, fanciful, unrealistic, impracticable
  • wrong word, misapplication, infelicity, slip of the tongue
  • Late 17th century: alteration (influenced by Latin albus 'white') of 16th-century alcatras, applied to various seabirds including the frigate bird and pelican, from Spanish and Portuguese alcatraz, from Arabic al-ġaṭṭās 'the diver'.
  • The spelling of albatross was influenced by Latin albus, ‘white’. The large white seabird was originally called the alcatras, a name which was also applied to other water birds such as the pelican (who gave their name to the prison-island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay) and came from Spanish and Portuguese alcatraz, from Arabic al-gattās ‘the diver’. In golf an albatross is a score of three under par at a hole. Albatross sometimes carries with it an idea of misfortune and burdensome guilt: this alludes to Coleridge's Ancient Mariner (1798), in which an albatross is shot by the mariner, bringing disaster on the rest of the crew and long-lasting guilt to him.
  • Title of a satirical novel by Aldous Huxley (1932), after Shakespeare's The Tempest ( v. i. 183)
  • BraveLate 15th century: from French, from Italian bravo 'bold' or Spanish bravo 'courageous, untamed, savage', based on Latin barbarus (barbarous);
  • In Old English people with all the attributes of bravery were ‘bold’. In the Middle Ages they could also be ‘courageous’, but it was not until the late 15th century that they became brave. The word came through French from Italian or Spanish bravo and goes back to Latin barbarus, the source of barbarian. Scots braw (late 16th century) ‘fine’, bravado (mid 16th century), bravo (mid 18th century), and bravura (mid 18th century) all go back to the same source. The phrase brave new world refers to a new or hopeful period of history brought about by major changes in society—usually implying that the changes are in fact undesirable. It is taken from the title of a satirical novel by Aldous Huxley (1894–1963), published in 1932. Huxley himself borrowed the phrase from a line in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Miranda has grown up isolated on an island with her magician father Prospero, the monster Caliban, and some spirits. On first encountering some other humans she exclaims: ‘How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in it!’
  • Barbarous: Late Middle English: via Latin from Greek barbaros 'foreign' -ous.
  • Barbarian: Middle English (as an adjective used in a derogatory way to denote a person with different speech and customs): from Old French barbarien, from barbare, or from Latin barbarus.
  • The ancient Greeks had a high opinion of themselves and a correspondingly low one of other peoples. They called everyone who did not speak Greek barbaros or ‘foreign’, which is where we get barbarian and related words barbaric (Late Middle English), barbarity (late 17th century), and barbarous (early 16th century). The word barbaros originally imitated the unintelligible language of foreigners, which to the Greeks just sounded like bababa.
  • a cat depicted with a broad fixed grin, as popularized through Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland(1865)
  • Late 18th century: of unknown origin, but it is said that Cheshire cheeses used to be marked with the face of a smiling cat.
  • a legendary Spanish nobleman of dissolute life, famous for seducing women
  • 1970s: popularized by the 1970 book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler (1928–2016).
  • Early 18th century: from the imaginary country of Lilliput in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, inhabited by people 6 inches (15 cm) high, + -ian.
  • Mid 19th century: from the name of the character Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan's play The Rivals (1775) + -ism.
  • ‘As headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile’ are some of the words of Mrs Malaprop, a character in The Rivals, a comedy by Richard Sheridan produced in 1775. Her most notable characteristic is an aptitude to misapply long words. The play was a great success, and the character clearly memorable, giving English the malapropism. Sheridan had based her name on the earlier term malapropos (mid 17th century) from French mal à propos ‘inappropriate’.
  • Mid 16th century: based on Greek ou 'not' + topos 'place'; the word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More.
  • The English scholar and statesman Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia in Latin in 1516, depicting an imaginary island enjoying a perfect social, legal, and political system. The name implies that such an ideal place exists ‘nowhere’, as More created it from Greek ou ‘not’, and topos ‘place’ the source of terms such as topography (mid 17th century), the arrangement of the physical features of an area. In the 17th century other writers started using utopia for other imaginary places where everything is perfect. The opposite of a utopia is a dystopia where everything is as bad as possible, a word formed in the late 18th century from Greek dus- ‘bad’, as if More had formed the word from Greek eu- ‘good’. Cacotopia or kakotopia (early 19th century) are less popular alternatives to dystopia. Topia has recently come to be used as a combining form for new words such as ecotopia, an ideal ecological world; motopia, a slightly misleading term as it means an ideal world where the use of cars is limited; pornotopia, the ideal setting for pornography; queuetopia, a far from ideal world of long queues; and subtopia, the ideal suburban world.
  • Mid 18th century: from the name of an imaginary race of brutish creatures in Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726).
  • The fourth part of Jonathan Swift's satire Gulliver's Travels, published in 1726, describes the country of the Houyhnhnms, who were intelligent horses. Their simplicity and virtue contrasts with the disgusting brutality of the Yahoos, beasts in the shape of men. Soon yahoo was being used for a coarse person or lout. In Australia the Yahoo is a large, hairy man-like monster supposedly inhabiting the east of the country. The name is recorded from the mid 19th century, and may have originated in an Aboriginal word, though Swift's Yahoos influenced the form in English. In the internet site and search engine Yahoo!, Yahoo stands for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle, but was chosen partly because the associations of yahoo appealed to them.
Match the descriptions with the correct allusions.

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Complete the sentences with appropriate allusions from the previous task.

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Occasionally, background knowledge is needed if we are to paraphrase certain literary allusions. Before doing this task, read the ORIGIN section and use the Internet to find out more about the literary allusions. Then paraphrase and summarise the information, using your own words as far as possible.

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  • 6th Baron (1788–1824), English poet. Byron's poetry exerted considerable influence on the romantic movement, particularly on the Continent. Having joined the fight for Greek independence, he died of malaria before seeing serious action. Notable works: Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812–18) and Don Juan (1819–24).
  • The hero of a romance (1605–15) by Cervantes, a satirical account of chivalric beliefs and conduct. The character of Don Quixote is typified by a romantic vision and naive, unworldly idealism.
  • A quixotic person is idealistic, unrealistic, and impractical, like the hero of the Spanish novel Don Quixote (1605–15) by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote is a middle-aged country gentleman obsessed with tales of chivalry who decides to become a knight and rides out with his squire Sancho Panza in search of adventure.
  • (Died c. 1540), German astronomer and necromancer. Reputed to have sold his soul to the Devil, he became the subject of a drama by Goethe, an opera by Gounod, and a novel by Thomas Mann.
  • Mid 17th century: named after Thomas Hobson (1554–1631), a Cambridge carrier who hired out horses, giving the customer the ‘choice’ of the one nearest the door or none at all.
  • (1883–1924), Czech novelist, who wrote in German. His work is characterized by its portrayal of an enigmatic and nightmarish reality where the individual is perceived as lonely, perplexed, and threatened. Notable works: The Metamorphosis (1917) and The Trial (1925).
  • (1903–50), British novelist and essayist, born in India; pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair. Orwell's work is characterized by his concern for social injustice. His most famous works are Animal Farm (1945), a satire on Communism as it developed under Stalin, and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), a dystopian account of a future state in which every aspect of life is controlled by Big Brother.
  • from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra i. v. 73
  • SaladLate Middle English: from Old French salade, from Provençal salada, based on Latin sal 'salt'. One of many words that go back to Latin sal salt. The root implies that it was the dressing or seasoning that originally characterized a salad, and not the vegetables. The expression your salad days, ‘the time when you are young and inexperienced’, is one of Shakespeare's inventions, occurring in Antony and Cleopatra. The idea behind the phrase becomes clearer when you read the full line spoken by Cleopatra: ‘My salad days, When I was green in judgement’. Shakespeare used the word salad in a play on green, which is still used today in the sense ‘inexperienced or naïve’. The expression was made better known by the success of Julian Slade's 1956 musical Salad Days about some students starting out in the adult world.
  • SaltOld Englishsealt (noun), sealtan (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch zout and German Salz (nouns), from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sal, Greek hals 'salt'. The root of salt is Latin sal, from which words such as saladsalami (mid 20th century), saline (Late Middle English), and sauce derive. A person who is the salt of the earth is kind, reliable, and honest. The phrase comes from St Matthew's Gospel: ‘Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?’ The expression sit below the salt, ‘to be of lower social standing’, goes back to the days when formal dinners were more common and when a person's rank determined where they sat at the table. Long dining tables running the length of the room were the norm, and those of the highest rank sat at the top end of the table, with the others arranged in descending order of status along the remaining length. The salt cellar was usually placed halfway down, and so anyone sitting below it knew they were socially inferior. Salt cellar itself has nothing to do with dark underground storage places. The second element was originally saler, which meant ‘salt box’ on its own. It came through Old French from Latin salarium, which also gave us salary—a salarium was originally a Roman soldier's allowance of money to buy salt. As early as the 15th century people did not fully understand saler and added salt in front of it. Finally it became a complete mystery, and they substituted the familiar cellar. Before the invention of the refrigerator food was salted, or treated with salt, to preserve it. This is the idea behind salting away money for future use, an expression that dates from the 1840s.
  • SauceMiddle English: from Old French, based on Latin salsus 'salted', past participle of salere 'to salt', from sal 'salt'. This is another word that goes back to Latin sal salt, along with sausage (Late Middle English), and salsa (mid 19th century), which is simply the Spanish word for ‘sauce’. The Latin American dance the salsa (late 20th century) is so named because it is ‘saucy’. The expression what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander implies that both sexes should be able to behave in the same way. John Ray, who recorded the saying in his English Proverbs of 1670, remarked that ‘This is a woman's Proverb’. Cups now sit on saucers, but in the Middle Ages a saucer was used for holding condiments or sauces, and was usually made of metal. The description saucy originally simply meant ‘savoury, flavoured with a sauce’. In the early 16th century it began to refer to people and behaviour, meaning at first ‘impudent, presumptuous’, mellowing into ‘cheeky’, then taking on suggestive overtones.
  • Scylla: (Greek Mythology) A female sea monster who devoured sailors when they tried to navigate the narrow channel between her cave and the whirlpool Charybdis. In later legend Scylla was a dangerous rock, located on the Italian side of the Strait of Messina.
  • Charybdis(Greek Mythology) A dangerous whirlpool in a narrow channel of the sea, opposite the cave of the sea monster Scylla.
  • from Shakespeare's Hamlet ( iii. iv. 207); hoist is in the sense 'lifted and removed', past participle of dialect hoise
  • misquotation, from ‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily; to throw perfume on the violet, … is wasteful, and ridiculous excess’ (Shakespeare's King John vi. ii. 11.)
  • GildOld Englishgyldan, of Germanic origin; related to gold.
  • GoldOld English, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch goud and German Gold, from an Indo-European root shared by yellow.
  • Yellow: As with other colour words such as auburn and brown, the root of yellow probably referred to a wider range of colours than the modern word. It shares an ancestor with gold, but is also related to gall (Old English), bile (mid 17th century), and the final element of melancholy, all of which derive from the greenish colour of bile. The yellow egg yolk (Old English), which could be spelt yelk into the 17th century, was also related to yellow. In the 17th century yellow rather than green was the colour of jealousy, possibly with the idea of a jealous person being ‘jaundiced’ or bitter. The word jaundice (Middle English) is from Old French jaune ‘yellow’, from the symptomatic yellowish complexion. Yellow is now associated with cowardice, a link that began in the 1850s in the USA. Since the 1920s a coward has been said to be yellow-bellied or a yellow-belly.
  • with allusion to Cervantes' story of Don Quixote tilting at windmills, believing they were giants
  • TiltLate Middle English (in the sense 'fall or cause to fall, topple'): perhaps related to Old English tealt 'unsteady', or perhaps of Scandinavian origin and related to Norwegian tylten 'unsteady' and Swedish tulta 'totter'. In its earliest sense, around 1300, tilt meant ‘to fall, topple’, and a jousting knight who tilted at a mounted opponent by riding with a lance levelled at his body was trying to knock him off his horse. This image of two armoured figures galloping towards each other is the source of at full tilt, ‘with maximum energy or force’. In the mock-heroic novel Don Quixote (1605–15) by Miguel de Cervantes, the hero Don Quixote sees a line of windmills on the horizons and takes them for giants, which he attacks. This gave us the expression tilt at windmills.
References
Acknowledgements

All authors must admit to a dependence on the work of others. We are no exception. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the publications and reference sources that we have consulted and adapted for educational purposes. It would also have been quite impossible to have produced the material on this website without adapting a variety of authentic resources that we have regularly referred to. While every effort has been made, it has not always been possible to identify and cite the sources of all the material used or to trace all copyright holders. We will be happy to omit any contents or include any appropriate acknowledgements when they are brought to our notice.

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