Missing in action
Over at Crawford Kilian’s Ask the English Teacher blog, some readers are in a lather over the expression went missing. Apparently people find it ungrammatical or illiterate or just plain grating. Here are his posts:
We have plowed that ground before ouselves:
Professor Kilian points out that the term is common in both British and Canadian English, and any reader of British murder mysteries or viewer of Midsomer Murders would find the term commonplace. The ears it offends appear to be American. (Where do you imagine that English came from in the first place?)
But it is a serviceable expression, with a specific meaning not otherwise provided so economically.
Missing is a state. We have no quarrel with saying that someone is missing or was missing. The difficulty is in expressing how the person got that way. One suggestion is disappeared; but disappeared has a sinister ring to it, suggesting that the absent person fled or was abducted. Disappeared doesn’t seem quite the word for someone who took off for a long weekend and forgot to stop delivery of the paper.
We don’t seem to have a problem with was reported missing, or at least no one has yet written to complain about it. But it looks, on examination, odd as well. It is a shortened, idiomatic expression meaning that someone made a report that another person was absent without explanation. To go missing is a short, idiomatic expression meaning that at a given point, someone identified another person as being absent without explanation. The latter is necessary because the time the report was made is probably not the time that it was noticed that the person was gone.
If you want to come up with an expression that encompasses the same nuance of meaning as economically, be my guest. Otherwise, get over it. It’s not as if I’m suggesting that we start writing about trams and lifts and lorries, or using plural verbs with government.