mcguffin

World English Dictionary
McGuffin or MacGuffin (məˈɡʌfɪn)
 
n
an object or event in a book or a film that serves as the impetus for the plot
 
[C20: coined (c. 1935) by Sir Alfred Hitchcock]
 
MacGuffin or MacGuffin
 
n
 
[C20: coined (c. 1935) by Sir Alfred Hitchcock]

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Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon
Main Entry:  McGuffin
Part of Speech:  n
Definition:  in film, a plot device that has no specific meaning or purpose other than to advance the story; any situation that motivates the action of a film either artificially or substantively; also written MacGuffin
Etymology:  Alfred Hitchcock's term, based on a story where this device was used in a story set on a Scottish train
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