MacGuffin

noun

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

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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.

Examples of MacGuffin in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web For those of us allergic to exposition dumps about why some MacGuffin needs to be retrieved or delivered or destroyed, there’s a refreshing meaninglessness to the tasks handed down by Hihi. Inkoo Kang, The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 2024 Many titles took on technology, not just as a MacGuffin or Deus ex machina, but as an extension of us. Thomas Page, CNN, 29 Jan. 2024 The show’s main flaw is its MacGuffin, which turns out to be not an object (like the falcon) but rather a small and terrified Algerian boy (Ismaël Berqouch) whom everyone, including the Vatican, is trying to kidnap. Lili Loofbourow, Washington Post, 22 Jan. 2024 According to Deadline, the film was the MacGuffin in a bidding war between streamers, before landing at Netflix. Vulture, 26 Nov. 2023 Carol Danvers was a fighter pilot for the U.S. military before a crash exposed her to energy from the Tesseract, the Marvel MacGuffin housing an Infinity Stone. Herb Scribner, Washington Post, 7 Nov. 2023 The plot combines elements of several of the previous installments — the parental kidnapping from the first, the electronics-controlling MacGuffin from Spy Kids 2, and most prominently, the virtual-reality video game from Spy Kids 3-D, a digital world the heroes enter toward the end of the film. Calum Marsh, Vulture, 26 Sep. 2023 Its premise may seem mundane as a hunt for magical space rocks, the same MacGuffin plot device that drives most popular science fiction and fantasy today, from Marvel to Zelda. Gene Park, Washington Post, 31 Aug. 2023 The MacGuffin in question is a shiny orb that’s apparently a map to the location of Thrawn’s exile, or would be if Ahsoka could activate it. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 22 Aug. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'MacGuffin.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

coined by Alfred Hitchcock

First Known Use

1939, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of MacGuffin was in 1939

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Cite this Entry

“MacGuffin.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/MacGuffin. Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

MacGuffin

noun
Mac·​Guf·​fin
variants or McGuffin
mə-ˈgəf-ən
: something (as an object) in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance
Etymology

coined by Alfred Hitchcock, died 1980, British film director

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