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Decomposition of Set Phrases
An allusion (4) is an indirect reference, by word or phrase, to a historical, literary, mythological, biblical fact or to a fact of everyday life made in the course of speaking or writing. The use of allusion presupposes knowledge of the fact, thing or person alluded to on the part of the reader or listener. No indication of the source is given. This is one of the notable differences between quotation and allusion. Another difference is of a structural nature: a quotation must repeat the exact wording of the original even though the meaning may be modified by the new context; an allusion is only a mention of a word or phrase which may be regarded as the key-word of the utterance. An allusion has certain important semantic peculiarities, in that the meaning of the word (the allusion) should be regarded as a form for the new meaning. The primary meaning of the word or phrase which is assumed to be known ( the allusion) serves as a vessel into which new meaning is poured. So here there is also a kind of interplay between two meanings.
“I wonder where are they, those good fellows?
Is old Weller alive or dead?”
Allusions are based on the experience and the knowledge of the writer who presupposes a similar experience and knowledge in the reader.
Allusions and quotations may be termed nonce - set - expressions because they are used only for the occasion.
Allusion needs no indication of the source. It is assumed to be known. Therefore most allusions are made to facts with which the general reader should be familiar. Allusions are sometimes made to things and facts which need commentary before they are understood.
Allusions are used in different styles, but their function is everywhere the same. The deciphering of an allusion, however, is not always easy. In newspaper headlines allusions may be decoded at first glance, as, for instance:
"'Pie in the sky' for Railmen"
Most people in the USA and Britain know the refrain of the workers' song: "You'll get pie in the sky when you die."
Linguistically the allusion 'pie in the sky' assumes a new meaning, viz. nothing but promises. Through frequency of repetition it may enter into the word-stock of the English language as a figurative synonym.
Linguistic fusions are set phrases, the meaning of which is understood only from the combination as a whole, as to pull a person's leg or to have something at one's finger tips. The meaning of the whole cannot be derived from the meanings of the component parts. The stylistic device of decomposition of fused set phrases consists in reviving the independent meanings which make up the component parts of the fusion. It makes each word of the combination acquire its literal meaning which in many cases leads to the realization of an absurdity.
"Mind! I don't mean to say that I know of my own knowledge,
what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. You will, therefore, permit me to repeat emphatically that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
‘ As dead as a door-nail’ is decomposed by being used in a different structural pattern. This causes the violation of the recognized meaning of the combination which has grown into emotional intensifier. The reader becomes aware of the meanings of the parts. Which be it repeated, have little in common with meaning of the whole.
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