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noun | muh-GUFF-in
What It Means
A MacGuffin is 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.
// The missing document is the MacGuffin that brings the two main characters together, but the real story centers on their tumultuous relationship.
Examples of MACGUFFIN
“… like every Mission: Impossible before it, Dead Reckoning sticks to a tried-and-true formula that essentially acts as a string to connect one action-sequence bead to the next. The set-up: A stealth Russian sub gets attacked by its own torpedoes. The MacGuffin: One cruciform key that the sub’s chief officer has in his possession, and which goes missing; once this item is slotted into an identical counterpart, the composite key will unlock… something.” — David Fear, Rolling Stone, 5 July 2023
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 holds the audience’s attention and builds suspense. He recognised 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.