MacGuffin

noun
Mac·​Guf·​fin | \ mə-ˈgə-fən How to pronounce MacGuffin (audio) \
variants: or

Definition of MacGuffin

: 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

Alfred Hitchcock and MacGuffin

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 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.

First Known Use of MacGuffin

circa 1939, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for MacGuffin

coined by Alfred Hitchcock

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about MacGuffin

Time Traveler for MacGuffin

Time Traveler

The first known use of MacGuffin was circa 1939

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about MacGuffin

Statistics for MacGuffin

Cite this Entry

“MacGuffin.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/MacGuffin. Accessed 10 Aug. 2020.

More from Merriam-Webster on MacGuffin

Britannica English: Translation of MacGuffin for Arabic Speakers

Comments on MacGuffin

What made you want to look up MacGuffin? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt painting a young scholar and his tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!