Can something really ‘go missing’?
Here’s a brief record of things I have lost in the past month: keys, a charging cable for my phone, chapstick, patience, earbuds, wallet, sanity, a travel mug, and roughly three more charging cables. Fortunately, I can find or replace most of these things, although I’m still looking for my sanity. If you have any clues of its whereabouts, let me know.
I’ve received the following question several times over the past few months: can something “go missing?” This phrase “go missing,” “gone missing,” or “went missing” has crept into American usage over the past few years. Some editors hate it. So, is it correct?
First of all, it’s important to note that “go missing” is a popular British import, just like The Beatles, Downton Abbey, Simon Cowell, and constant self-loathing. The Oxford English Dictionary lumps “go missing” into a group of various other “go” phrases and expressions like “go crazy,” “go public,” and “go viral.” This construction with the word “go” means something is passing into a certain condition. I knew where my keys were, then something happened, resulting in them being lost. Therefore, my keys went missing.
What’s the problem with “go missing?” The AP Stylebook would rather you use the words vanish or disappear. However, go missing indicates that something disappeared intentionally, unintentionally, voluntarily or involuntarily, depending on context. “The dog conveniently went missing right before her appointment at the veterinarian” gives you a clue that the dog intentionally went missing to avoid the horrors of going to the vet.
Go missing is idiomatic, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a slang term. This gives another strike against it to more formal writing. However, slang and idiom are the proving ground for future everyday, accepted lexicon. Without slang, we wouldn’t have words like veggie, dude, gross, and cool. These words graduated from informal slang status into common usage.
Personally, I’m a fan of new words and expressions. It means a language continues to evolve and recreate itself. And, if the editor of this paper disagrees with my point of view, don’t be surprised if my column mysteriously goes missing from these pages next week.