Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
June 16th, 2016
Episode 557 of 713 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 16, 2016 is: MacGuffin \muh-GUFF-in\ 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 Examples: The missing document is the MacGuffin that brings the two main characters together, but the real story centers on their tumultuous relationship. "The story opens … at the funeral of elderly Oleander Gardener…. The childless Oleander has several nieces and nephews…. Questions of inheritance and a mysterious seed pod that each of her heirs receives constitute the framework of a tenuous plot, but these are primarily MacGuffins."— The Publisher's Weekly Review, 14 Mar. 2016 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 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.