I don’t normally do requests, but this one came from Katherine
Galbraith, and those of us who know her and love her would never ignore
a request from her.
As I understand it, a discussion broke out in one of her bridge clubs as
to the use of “went missing.” The consensus of the group was that it is
an ugly expression, if not outright improper use of the language.
So, someone suggested, “We should call Mike Hall and ask him.”
Flattering, but I continue to insist I’m a journalist, not a grammarian.
Those two worlds rarely come in contact with each other.
Still, I had to agree the term had always struck me as being strange.
A search of the Internet found lots of messages from people who didn’t
like the term, but the closest I came to understanding its origin was
on the website “Grammar Girl” — http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com.
It is operated by Mignon Fogarty, author of “The Grammar Devotional.”
Among her claims to fame is publication of a “pet peeve of the year.” In
2007 it was “went missing,” based on the number of votes it received
from her followers.
Her advice to the media: “ ‘Went 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.”
She and other language experts agree the term seems to have originated
in England, explaining why it sounds strange to American ears.
“My version of the Oxford English Dictionary places the first use in a
1958 book by British writer Norman Franks,” Fogarty wrote. “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. I've also heard the term ‘go native’ used to describe the
transition a newcomer to Washington, D.C., undergoes as he or she
accepts the government bureaucracy, which I suppose could be considered
turning to savagery or heathenism.”
So, even though the term is strangely annoying, there is logic behind
its use, she noted. It’s no more illogical, she argued, than using the
term “go begging.”
“It's possible," Fogarty wrote, “that this British term has gained
footing in the American media because of the high-profile disappearance
of British girl Madeline McCann in May 2007. The McCann story received
wall-to-wall news coverage for weeks, and this is just speculation, but
it may be that the constant reporting by British journalists about how
the girl “went missing” subtly influenced American reporters to adopt
So, bridge club ladies, you have had your one allowed request fulfilled.
Mike Hall can be reached