Self-appointed Word Guy and syndicated columnist Rob Kyff chose a
differently conjugated victim, "go missing," but the sentiment was
the same. "This annoying pest is far from missing; it seems to show
up in every TV newscast, e.g. 'Her husband went missing last week.'"
Shari in Costa Mesa concurs with the pros.
"It really annoys me when people, including the news media, use
the term 'went missing.' As in 'she went missing in October.' Is this
proper English or is it some sort of slang? Whatever it is, it just
doesn't sound right!"
In this way, grammar sticklers are a lot like clergymen: They're
really good at telling you what not to do. (Don't say that; don't
touch that; don't think that; don't tell anyone.) But they're hard
pressed to offer any useful ideas on what you can do instead. You
see, neither Kilpatrick nor Kyff offered a single suggestion on what
to say instead of "went missing."
So I did what any lazy or cowardly word columnist would do: I
pinned the whole mess on poor little Shari, who I figured would be
most likely to respond to an e-mail from me.
What, I asked her, would you say instead?
Unlike Kyff and Kilpatrick, Shari gave it the old college try:
"How about: 'The soldier has been missing since ... '; 'The
soldier was listed as missing ... '; 'The soldier became missing ...
All noble attempts, all useful in limited instances, but are they
really sufficient substitutes for the all-purpose "went missing"?
I'll let Shari answer that, as she did in the very next sentence
of her e-mail about "went missing."
"I guess it is just a slang phrase that I will have to get used
to," she concluded.
The best and most scholarly alternatives I can come up with -- "He
manifested himself missing," "He joined the hallowed ranks of those
whom we call missing," "He done up and got his self missing," "Call
him Mister Missing" -- just don't cut it.
"Lost" doesn't quite capture it, "absent" would be wrong in many
cases, and though "disappeared" would work in some cases, do we
really want to limit our options to one that suggests a magician and
a big puff of smoke?
Yes, "went missing" is grammatically nonsensical. "Went" is a verb
that is usually followed by an indirect object, as in "went to the
mall." But "went" and other conjugated forms of "to go" are almost
never followed by adjectives.
But it none other than Kilpatrick who notes that, "Nothing in the
rules of English composition requires that idioms be plausible -- or
And it is this defiant nature of idioms that make it OK to say
that Shari "dreamed up" some new ideas, that Kyff "threw up," and
that Kilpatrick "went crazy."
* JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer. She can be reached at