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

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The first known use of MacGuffin was circa 1939

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Cite this Entry

“MacGuffin.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

More from Merriam-Webster on MacGuffin

Britannica English: Translation of MacGuffin for Arabic Speakers

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