chomiji: Tenpou from Saiyuki Gaiden. with the caption Not necessarily by the book (Tenpou - Not by the book)
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Today's set of easily confused words is as mellifluous as it is puzzling. We'll try to clarify the situation with the help of the Knight of Lost Words, October ("Toby") Daye, and her friends.

The Oxford Dictionaries show us that allude and elude are cousins. The second syllable of both comes from the Latin ludere, "to play." Both words do have an element of word play to them. To elude is to escape, especially in a clever manner (thus the association with "play"). However, it's also commonly used in reference to a desired goal or achievement that remains out of reach:

Even though Dawn had done her thing with the rosy fingers hours ago, sleep still eluded me. There's nothing as aggravating to most of the Fae as being awake in the middle of the day. I finally rolled out of bed and headed to the kitchen in search of a snack.

In contrast, allude means to suggest something or hint at something indirectly:

I felt like I'd tried on fully half of my clean clothes, only to fling them onto the bed in disgust after one look in the mirror. Finally I pulled on a pair of jeans, a plain blue T shirt, and a plaid blouse that I liked because it was cool and comfortable. It was pink, which ought to count as something feminine. I ran downstairs to the living room. "How's this?"

Jazz wrinkled her nose. May was more explicit. "The grunge thing was over years ago, sis, even if the kids in the nineties thought it was the cat's meow."

I crossed my arms and frowned at her. "I take it you're not alluding to my fiance?"
Our third member of the trio is a cousin to elude but not allude. Its initial e is also from the Latin ex, meaning "out of" or "away from," but its second syllable is from "laedere," which means "dash"— that is, to break something by flinging it with great force. There's a related compound in Latin, elidere, which meant "to crush out." This came to mean "annul," and that in turn evolved into the modern meaning of elide: to omit or leave out, and by extension, to merge things together by omitting what used to be between them:
"What happened to your hair?" blurted Quentin. I suppose it did look pretty appalling, what with the thorny twigs and the blood.

"Just some rose bushes," I answered, nonchalantly.

"Just some rose bushes?" said Tybalt, eying me with concern. "Toby, why do I have a feeling that you are eliding at least half a dozen details?"

Of the three, elide is by far the most uncommon. You might be able to keep its distinct meaning in mind by the fact that it's very close to slide, and when you elide things, you slide them together.

The confusion of the other two, allude and elude, happens fairly often. Try to remember your Latin roots. Words from Latin that start with e, which comes from ex, often have to do with away from or out of: escape, exit. On the other hand, Latinate words that start with a, which comes from ad, often have to do with to or toward: apply, abut, apropos. Something that eludes gets away; something that alludes points toward.


You can learn more about Toby by reading Seanan McGuire's October Daye series of urban fantasy novels, which starts with Rosemary and Rue (2009).

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