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Sandra Bullock’s Tiger Woods Cub Story Went Missing

by | 5th, April 2010

SANDRA Bullock’s Tiger Woods’ cub went missing. Or is missing?

“Q. I have noticed the use of “went missing” in newspapers recently. “The money went missing,” “he or she went missing,” etc. When did “went” get interjected into sentences? What is wrong with “the money is (or was) missing” or “he or she is (or was) missing? I think “went missing” sounds stupid.

Stephen Krause, of Collinsville

A. You’re not alone. On her blog, the Grammar Girl received so many complaints from her literate followers that she called it her pet peeve of 2008. In 2005, noted wordsmith James J. Kilpatrick wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, “‘Went missing’ should go missing.”

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that the phrase is as syntactically senseless as some seem to think, but more on that later. First, some background:

Perhaps the main reason the phrase sounds so foreign to your ears is because it apparently comes from across the pond. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its first published use to 1958 in British writer Frank Norman’s book, “Bang to Rights: An Account of Prison Life” — “The snout had gone missing.”

Today, those very proper British would not think twice about using the phrase, according to www.businessballs.com, which does in-depth research on the origins of words and phrases.

“Most English folk would never dream of asking the question as to this expression’s origins because the cliche is so well-used and accepted in the U.K. — it’s just a part of normal language that everyone takes for granted on a purely logical and literal basis.”

In fact, the Grammar Girl suggests it may have sneaked into American reporting in 2007 after 3-year-old Madeleine McCann went … er … vanished in Portugal while on vacation with her British parents. The story received international headlines for weeks, so it was only natural that the Brits’ repeated use of “went missing” would rub off on foreign reporters.

Plausible — but probably incorrect. Although it only recently has annoyed you, a check of the News-Democrat finds that we’ve used it at least 190 times in the past 15 years, more than half before 2007.

So, let me offer a contrarian view from The English Teacher blog: “In my opinion, ‘gone missing’ more precisely describes the state of being simply just ‘missing.’”

For example, saying Madeleine McCann “is missing” gives you no idea of time. Has she been gone 20 years or three days? You could add “as of last week,” but this is wordy and awkward. By using an active verb, “went missing last week” adds a sense of urgency and easily lends itself to adding a time element.

Of course, you could say “disappear” but some associate this with a magician’s trick during which something seemingly vanishes into thin air never to be seen again. So, some would argue, “went missing” is concise, accurate and readable.

Now, if we ever join the British in saying “he went to hospital (no “the”),” I’ll be among the first to pick up a protest sign.

M.E.S.S. call”

Now she’s responsible for bad grammar?

Spotter: Bat E Bird



Posted: 5th, April 2010 | In: Madeleine McCann, News Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink