One of the things I love so much about Grammar Wednesdays is that, in teaching you things, I get to learn new things, too!
CaliforniaTeacherGuy sent me this on Sunday:
Dear Mrs. Chili,
Would you consider doing (or maybe you already have done) a rant about that seemingly ubiquitous and utterly abhorrent Americanism “to go missing”? Just a few minutes ago I was reading the local newspaper and stumbled across this paragraph:
A rare sea turtle–albeit a dead one–returned to the San Diego Natural Museum on Friday, three years after it went missing.
That whole sentence makes me shudder. First of all, if the turtle is dead, how did it return to the museum of its own volition? And then there’s that loathsome phrase, “went missing,” as if “missing” were a destination in the English countryside–along with Little Missing, Greater Missing, Missing Camden, and Hither Missing. (Get the picture?!)
Let me know what you think of my idea. If I see it on your blog next Wednesday, I’ll assume you thought well of it.
Not only did I think well of CTG’s question, but it sent me immediately off on a giddy, geeky quest to get to the proverbial bottom of the matter. I’d never stopped to question this structure, myself; I just always took it for an idiom (though my impression was that it began as a British expression) and left it at that.
The source of CTG’s frustration, as I read it, is that he’s taking “go” to mean “to move or proceed,” as in I go to the gym four days a week. He rightly points out that “missing” isn’t a destination – one can’t actually go there. Further, I’d be willing to bet that his angst is furthered by the idea that “going” involves some volition on the part of the subject and, generally, one does not kidnap or otherwise cause oneself to disappear.
“Go,” however, has many different definitions (I was surprised to see how many!), and the one that works with the phrase to go missing is the same one that we use to express things like to go crazy or to go amiss; namely the fourth definition in my favorite dictionary, “to become as specified.”
Someone much smarter than I wrote a comprehensive piece on this very question. Go here to read; he’ll make more sense than I did here.
Sooza emailed me yesterday to ask if I would shed some light on semicolons. I had a flash of memory of having discussed those here before, so I did some checking and found the post here. Let me know if you need anything clarified.
Happy Wednesday, All! Keep those Grammar Wednesday questions coming!