Thursday, May 3, 2007

MacGuffin

I heard a new word the other day listening to NPR, “MacGuffin”. Karen might be already familiar with this term but it was a new one to me.

Wikipedia says:

“A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or Maguffin) is a plot device that motivates the characters and/or advances the story, but has little other relevance to the story.”

Alfred Hitchcock first introduced the term,
“"[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 most always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers."

In other words, it’s a film sleight of hand meaning that what is obvious in the story, is not really relevant to the point the director is trying to make. The audience is following the story around the “necklace” or “papers”, and missing the drama unfolding between the actors.

Here’s an amusing anecdote told by Hitchcock explaining the origin of MacGuffin in a 1966 interview with Francois Trauffaut:

"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 MacGuffin?' '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."

Rhetorically speaking I think this is called “falling for the obvious”.

Nice word, next time you’re in an interesting verbal “kerfuffle”, and someone’s concentrating on the minutiae, but completely missing your point,

Stop, and say “MacGuffin!”

3 comments:

Apollo said...

If MacGuffin = All Non Sequitur

And

Non-Sequitur != Logical Fallacy

And

Non Sequitur is not MacGuffin

Then

MacGuffin = Logical Fallacy

True or False?

amalthea said...

Some people just don't get it. Ha ha. That's a little MacGuffin humor.

Apollo said...

Correctomundo!