The director and producer Alfred Hitchcock popularized both the term "MacGuffin" and the technique. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Hitchcock explained the term in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: "[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'MacGuffin.' It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers."
Interviewed in 1966 by François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock illustrated the term "MacGuffin" with this story:
- "It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh that's a McGuffin.' The first one asks, 'What's a McGuffin?' 'Well,' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no McGuffin!' So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all."
Hitchcock related this anecdote in a television interview for Richard Schickel's documentary The Men Who Made the Movies. Hitchcock's verbal delivery made it clear that the second man has thought up the MacGuffin explanation as a roundabout method of telling the first man to mind his own business. According to author Ken Mogg, screenwriter Angus MacPhail, a friend of Hitchcock's, may have originally coined the term.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Wikipedia on "Macguffin" (via Emily)
Wikipedia on "Macguffin" (as discussed in our first meeting):