Hitchcock's McGuffin story possibly derived from a story about an imaginary mongoose

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 30 22:04:21 UTC 2010

Going through 6000 or so GB records that provide hits for various
possible spellings of McGuffin is a chore. And I am far from having
completed it. But I did come across something that might be of interest
in connecting Schauffler's use and Hitchcock's. Given the usual GB date
tag proviso, not long after Schauffler put the term in circulation, it
ended up anonymously in The Writer magazine.  Now, consider the string
"1926, The Writer, Hitchcock".

There is nothing too conspicuous about it. Hitchcock's first "hit" was
The Lodger (released in 1927, but completed in 1926). But also note a
small item in IMDB bio: "His first job outside of the family business
was in 1915 as an estimator for the Henley Telegraph and Cable Company.
His interest in movies began at around this time, frequently visiting
the cinema and reading US trade journals."

When making The Lodger, Hitchcock was a man of all trades at
Gainsborough Pictures (might have had a different studio name at that
moment). He did the writing and art directing in addition to starting
out as a director in 1925. The Writer certainly qualifies as a "US trade
journal" for an aspiring film director and script writer ("A Monthly
Magazine for Literary Workers"). It seems rather likely that a copy of
The Writer made its way to Hitchcock's desk.

Now, for the content. Again, all of this only makes sense if GB date is
correct--and I'll have to rely on someone else's library skills to
verify this directly on paper (I have no transportation and am stuck in
the outskirts of Boulder at least for the next couple of weeks, so
getting anywhere near a reasonably voluminous depository is out of the

Schauffler's McGuffin made an appearance anonymously in an article in
The Writer that GB claims is on p. 105 some time early in 1926. The
volume number (38) matches the publication date.

> There is no end to our needs. One of them is "impreciation," to denote
> the opposite of appreciation. Another is some single word for
> "pleasantly disappointed." Might the two be be telescoped into
> "pleasappointed"? I forget who was the creator of "McGuffin," but a
> "McGuffin" is a gift that is not to be opened until Christmas.

/If/ the date is correct /and/ Hitchcock read The Writer--both fairly
plausible suppositions--then we have a direct connection between
Schauffler's and Hitchcock's McGuffins. How the term evolved in
Hitchcock's hands is quite another matter.

Caveat: The font in the snippet looks like Times. There have been
slightly different versions of Times and closely related fonts for quite
some time, but I cannot determine from the snippet alone (let alone on a
laptop screen) if this one appears more modern than it should have been
for 1926. It seems plausible that the date is correct. Intrinsic checks
reveal that 1926 is a common date (75 pages) within this volume and
there are several references to multiple writing contests closing on
January 1, 1927 (on pp. 384, 471, 518), although there are 22 other
citations for 1927 than GB search does not reveal. There are no page
hits for 1928 or subsequent years, except for a mention of one "member
of the class of 1929 in the University of Chicago" who won a 1926 poetry
contest (p. 474 at http://bit.ly/cBaLqj). As I mentioned earlier, the
volume number also matches 1926. There is a copyright listing on p. 39
that appears to be 1926 (but is certainly 19x6--http://bit.ly/a6QVrP).
So the date evidence is not entirely conclusive, but I found many
supporting facts and absolutely nothing to contradict it.


On 10/27/2010 5:26 PM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>> It leads me to wonder if Schauffler had heard the mongoose/apparatus story
>> with, perhaps, the added detail that the mongoose/apparatus was a Christmas
>> gift for someone. An interlocutor might then have said something like, "What
>> sort of a McGuffin is it?"
>> Worthless conjecture, but it would be nice to account for this 1925 McGuffin
>> as something more than complete coincidence.
> --
> My own speculation would be that Schauffler's word was the etymon, and
> that Hitchcock's etymology story was irrelevant and probably false.
> Is there any independent evidence of the existence of a "mongoose"-type
> story using the word "McGuffin"? If not, it's surely plausible that
> Hitchcock or his informant was either misremembering something or just
> casually fabricating an etymological myth. If there was a previous
> "mongoose"-type story containing the word "McGuffin" (and there may have
> been), I would still speculate that it had no etymological relevance
> (but that Hitchcock or his informant might have thought that it had).
> Just my speculation, but not necessarily any worse than Hitchcock's.
> -- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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