Submitted by swardie  •  January 10, 2010

“went missing/gone missing”?

The first time I heard the phrase “went missing” was a few years while watching a national news broadcast. The new reporter interviewed a midwestern sheriff about the case of a missing girl. He said she “went missing eight days ago”. I assumed it was a colloquialism (and very poor grammar). Now I hear it and read it quite frequently. Where did this strange expression come from? How can someone “go” missing? Shouldn’t it be “disappeared”? Or perhaps, “has been missing”?

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It truly sounds terrible and should not be used in the english language.

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My pet peeve about "went missing" is that it seems to imply the person missing had some preference about the circumstances, as though he/she chose to "go missing," just like if "I went fishing" or "Sam went shopping." (The implication is that I or Sam first decided that we would go fishing or shopping, and then we did it.) Except for rare cases, no one wants to "go missing." Why can't reporters simply stick with the present state of being: "At this time, Smith Smith is missing."?

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Well, providencejim, they could have simply said, "Mystery surrounds why search teams have been unable to find a father and daughter who are missing after a hiking trip in the Colorado mountains, a Colorado sheriff said Friday."

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you "go" or "went" somewhere....where is "missing?" sounds terrible and grammatically incorrect...professional news journalists should drop these phrases..

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I'll bet Grammar Girl would have conniptions over "went AWOL."

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IF YOU ARE GONE (YOU ARE NOT THERE)...IF YOU WENT(YOU ARE NOT THERE)....IF YOU ARE MISSING (YOU ARE NOT THERE)....WHY USE TWO WORDS TOGETHER TO SAY THE SAME THING???

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The phrase is a Britishism, if I may extend the appellation to an entire nation. It rings oddly in American ears, at first. Whether it is grammatical is irrelevant: it is an established idiom. It is a useful phrase, much better then "missing and presumed..." It has hope in it. Embrace it.

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I believe both versions - go missing/went missing - are correct. The present, past and past participle of the verb "to go" is as follows: go/went/gone. In English, the participial forms of verbs are usually preceded by a form of the verb "to have". Consider the following:

- I go to the market on Mondays.

- I went to the market last Monday.
- I had gone to the market last week.

I would imagine the same applies to the compound verb:

- Don't talk to strangers or you could go missing.

- The child went missing a few days ago.
- The child had gone missing while on a shopping trip with his parents.

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Is it any worse than "go crazy", "go awry", "go nuts", or "go gaga over"?

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I did a little poking about on the internet. It turns out that Grammar Girl listed "went missing" as her pet peeve for 2008:

"...if any reporters are listening, here's the deal: "Went [sic] missing" actually isn't wrong, but it annoys a lot of Americans, so you might want to say "missing" or "disappeared" every once in a while."

For the record, peevish people should get real pets; it might relax them. But G. G. does note that "Went missing actually isn't wrong." That's because, as she herself notes. "go is quite a versatile verb." It generally implies movement, but a person may "go crazy" without actually traveling. Much.

Grammar Girl attributes the invasion of America by "went missing" to the press, and she's probably right. But if a a midwestern sheriff is using it, it's here to stay.

There is ample antipathy on both sides of the Ocean Sea to usages perceived to be "theirs." This is not new. Fitzedward Hall (now there's a name!) in "Modern English" (1873) cites "The London Review" (1864) as saying:

"The nineteenth century has witnessed the introduction of abundant Gallicisms, Germanisms, Americanisms, colonialisms, and provincialisms; nearly all needless, or easily to be supplied by more correct words or phrases."

They go on to say, "There is no nation, except our own easy-going one, that would tolerate such words as..." Ah, those easy-going Victorians. I think a little cross-pollination time-to-time is a good thing. Keeps the language from the knacker’s yard, as it were.

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The OED has, under "go":

44. To pass into a certain condition. Chiefly implying deterioration. [...] to go missing: to get lost

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nuffsaid, did you bother to read the comments above, especially Warsaw Will's? We are dealing with an idiomatic expression that now appears well ensconced in American English, after being so in British English for a long time. It does not "sound terrible" to my ears (in contrast with, for example, "those kind," which folks on TV say regularly). Please try to get over it ;-).

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I think "went missing" is now common in reporting (print and other media) because it serves a purpose not easily fulfilled by other means. Consider this news item I found today at MSNBC.com: "Mystery surrounds why search teams have been unable to find a father and daughter who went missing during a hiking trip in the Colorado mountains, a Colorado sheriff said Friday." You might argue, what about "disappeared"? Well, technically we don't know if they vanished, but we do know that according to friends and family they are missing. I have no problem with this usage.

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dot, please don't SHOUT. Now try to apply your view to the quote in my Dec. 17 post, "...a New Jersey woman who went missing in May 2010." How would you do that? At any rate, there is simply no argument against what has clearly become common usage in the press (and elsewhere). It's like arguing that gas stations should advertise "Self-Service" rather than "Self-Serve." One can, but where does it get you?

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We need to put this issue to rest. Again today I find the idiom used on a US news site, msnbc.msn.com: "By NBC New York
Police have identified the remains found on Monday in a Long Island marsh as those of Shannan Gilbert, a New Jersey woman who went missing in May 2010." I suspect it's become just as common now in American English as in British English, and, as it violates no rule of grammar I'm aware of, we all just need to accept it. As Warsaw Will says, don't use it if you don't like it, but don't put down those who do.

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Well, Nancy, I'm sorry the idiom so upsets you, but like many idioms it appears to have ensconced itself in the English language (but in no other I'm aware of), so we might as well get used to it. I checked with Grammar Girl, and though she too is not fond of the usage, notes the following: "The reason went missing sounds strange to Americans is that it's a British idiom (1, 2). I've seen sources placing the first use of went missing as far back as 1944 (3), but my version of the Oxford English Dictionary places the first use in a 1958 book by British writer Norman Franks (4). The OED places gone missing in the same category as the phrase go native, which is used to describe a turn to or relapse into savagery or heathenism." (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/went-missi...) So if one must place blame, put it on the Brits. Meanwhile, I suspect most of us will refrain from wincing upon seeing/hearing its use.

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@Nancy - if you had said in American English, you might have had a point, as this expression seems to grate over there. But in my branch of the English language (BrE), it is an absolutely normal expression. There is an easy answer to most of these questions: if you don't like it, don't use it. But don't criticise others for whom it is standard. I don't particularly like where you put 'truly' in your sentence, but that's your choice.

@porsche - thanks for introducing me to a new word - I'd never seen 'conniption' (mainly AmE) before.

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Yes, Jimmy, they could have said that, but your version leaves open the possibility the two people took a hiking trip and later became missing. The "went missing during a hiking trip" leaves no doubt about the chronology; and besides, I kind of like the idiomatic "went missing"--it has a feeling of action about it that seems appropriate ;-).

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