Going, going, gone missing

A colleague tells me that one of The Sun’s readers asked him why we use the constructions go missing and went missing, instead of disappeared or vanished.

I wrote about went missing four years ago, but apparently it is still getting up people’s noses. People like the late James. J. Kilpatrick. Perhaps because it is originally a British expression, like “getting up one’s nose.”

The thing to be said for it is that it is a neutral term, which I think must be why the police seem to have grown fond of it. Missing people may have been abducted, or fled the jurisdiction, or merely wandered off. If you don’t know how they came to be missing, using the least alarmist term is appropriate.

The objection that went missing makes no syntactical sense is persuasive only if you deny the existence of idioms. If you go free, where is free? How do you go one better? Or have a go at? If you understand to go missing as being absent for reasons unknown, then you can’t complain that it makes no sense, merely that you do not find it aesthetically satisfying. Well, hard cheddar.



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