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Words June 9

by and

“Divers on Tuesday found the body of a Russellville man who went missing the night before during a fishing trip on Lake Dardanelle.” A Little Rock reader wonders where went missing came from, and why it doesn’t go back. The usage began showing up in American newspapers and broadcasts a few years ago. I found an on-line discussion of it that took place in 2003. The consensus seems to be that went missing was a fixture of British journalism that crossed the Atlantic to this country. There is no consensus on whether it should be welcomed. Some people find it offensive; others say it’s a useful idiom, and question why went missing should be any less acceptable than went crazy, went awry, went broke. What precisely is wrong with it, they ask, and that’s a hard question to answer. “Sounds funny,” though true, is not good enough. When an expression reaches a certain frequency of usage, it becomes the norm and stops sounding funny. My objection to “went missing” is that “missing” is not a place one can go on his own. You can go crazy or broke by yourself. (Hopefully, you won’t, but you could.) Those conditions don’t depend on other people’s perception of you. But we’re all somewhere, and most likely, we know where we are. We are missing only in the eyes of other people; we don’t get there on our own. One can be missing, but he can’t go missing, is my vote. Still, went missing looks like it’s here to stay, at least in journalistic circles. If we all work together, maybe we can hold the line against turned up missing, which appears occasionally even though it’s a contradiction in terms. And stupid. Another annoying bit of journalese — this one homegrown, I’m pretty sure — is the fine with construction, as in “Harding said he was fine with the new requirement,” and “Prosecuting Attorney I. M. DeLaw said prosecutors are fine with the legislation.” This one makes the person subordinate to the thing, reversing normal usage: “Harding said the requirement was fine with him,” “DeLaw said the legislation was fine with the prosecutors.” People can be pleased with things. Things are indifferent to people.

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