Linguistic Corner: MacGuffin

Miloš Matović 4 years ago Comment

“So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.”

Linguistic Corner: MacGuffin | Translation | Blog | Ciklopea

MacGuffin (also spelled McGuffin and maggufin) is perhaps best explained in the words of its most prominent advocate, Sir Alfred Hitchcock:

“It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?” And the other answers, “Oh, that’s a MacGuffin”. 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 MacGuffin!” So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.”

Hitchcock repeated this story throughout his career and became closely associated with MacGuffins, although it is unknown who, when and why coined this term.

MacGuffin can be described as a false motivation or a false focal point, a plot mechanism used to advance the story although it has little to no real narrative value. It can be a person, an event, an object – as long as there is an attractive aura of mystery to it so the quest for the explanation of its secrets justifies whatever happens in the story.

Some of the famous MacGuffins include:

  • Rosebud in “Citizen Kane” – the pursuit for the meaning of “Rosebud” justifies the epic, prismatic story about Charles Foster Kane.
  • Murder of Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks” – the investigation justifies a slew of intricate stories about the surreal town of Twin Peaks.
  • The One Ring in “The Lord of the Rings” – the journey to Mordor for the Ring’s destruction is used to tell the epic story about the history of the Middle Earth.
  • The briefcase in “Pulp Fiction” – we never see its content, although everything that happens in the movie is about it.
  • Golden Fleece and the Holy Grail can be viewed as MacGuffins before the cinematic MacGuffins.

In other words, Hitchcock was right. A MacGuffin is indeed “nothing at all”, but some of the greatest stories ever told would not have existed without it.

Like This Article? Subscribe to Receive More Via Email

  • receive a digest with new articles
  • up to 2 emails a month

Related Articles

Digital Transformation and Translation Asset Management: Hand in Glove

3 months ago

We may perceive translation in various ways – it may be good, bad, correct, incorrect, fluent, awkward, poetic, mechanical and so on – but it is easy to forget that translation is actually an asset. To be more precise, our painstakingly and successfully localized materials for specific markets are assets simply by virtue of their function – they generate profit, reduce expenses and improve sales.

Continue reading

What Is an Editable File (And Why PDF Isn’t Really One)

5 months ago

Editable file is one of the language industry’s magic phrases that activates certain powers such as cost/time optimization. The reason is simple – editable files can be easily imported in CAT tools and thus enable the localization teams to apply the carefully developed processes of linguistic and technical adaptation, quality control and optional DTP. Simply put – there is no localization process and reliable quality control without the CAT software and CAT software can only be used with editable files.

Continue reading

The Four Eyes Principle in the Language Industry: How Does it Work?

1 year ago

Every serious language service provider has a quality management system in place that may include various steps depending on the project requirements. However, these quality management systems are always built around the two major phases of translation/localization project – translation and revision (also known as bilingual editing) that are performed by two individual linguists or linguist teams.

Continue reading