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Shaggy Dog Story

Posted by ESC on July 23, 2003

In Reply to: Shaggy Dog Story? posted by Kit 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.

: : : NOTE: Today's Word of the Day can be found in the NEW Eleventh Edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, along with more than 10,000 new words and senses. Find out more at:

: : : To subscribe to the html version of Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day, featuring audio pronunciations, interactive surveys, and more:

: : What's a "shaggy dog story"?

: A long rambling story amusing only by its being inconsequential. Whereas this eplanation is anything but.

: Innit!

: ;-)