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MacGuffin

Posted by ESC on July 23, 2003

Someone will ask about this sooner or later. So...

The Word of the Day for July 22, 2003, is:

MacGuffin \muh-GUH-fin\ noun
: an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance

Example sentence:
The missing document is the MacGuffin that sends the two spies off on an action-packed race around the world, but the real story centers on tension between the main characters.

Did you know?
The first person to use "MacGuffin" as a word for a plot device was Alfred Hitchcock. He borrowed it from an old shaggy-dog story in which some passengers on a train interrogate a fellow passenger carrying a large, strange-looking package. The fellow says the package contains a "MacGuffin," which, he
explains, is used to catch tigers in the Scottish Highlands. When the group protests that there are no tigers in the Highlands, the passenger replies, "Well, then, this must not be a MacGuffin." Hitchcock apparently appreciated the way the mysterious package keeps the audience's attention and builds
suspense. He recognized that an audience anticipating a solution to a mystery will continue to follow the story even if the initial interest-grabber turns out to be irrelevant.

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