On "Gone Missing"

I just listened to the broadcast for the first time.


Perhaps it was because I was so nervous.

I wanted to listen to it because I’ve been reading the comments about my opinion on “gone missing,” and I’ve realized that I inadvertently said something that I did not mean.

When the first caller, Vijay, called in, he was talking about how he didn’t like when the expression “gone missing” was used in the news.

At one point, he said, “It shouldn’t be ‘gone missing,’ it should be ‘is missing.'”

When he said that, I thought he meant that in headlines, it should say “is missing” and that the headline should have read, “Seventeen-year-old girl is missing.”

I thought that he meant that headlines that use only the verb’s past participle are incorrect.

“‘Seventeen-year-old girl gone missing,'” I said. “Wouldn’t it be correct to say, ‘seventeen-year-old girl eaten by a bear’? This is in a headline. Um….using just a past participle, like that, that seems to be correct, to me.”

This is, genuinely, what I meant all along. I wasn’t even talking about the expression. I hope this explanation shows how I didn’t mean to say “gone missing” was okay; I meant to show that using the past participle only in headlines was okay, and is standard.

Now, I can truly answer the question: what do I think about “gone missing”? I actually haven’t ever thought about that.

If we’re talking about headlines, then just missing should work: Camp Counselor Missing Since Thursday.

You know what? It sounds a bit awkward, but I’m not entirely sure that it is outright wrong. I need to consult a few more sources.

However, based on personal opinion alone, I know that in journalism, you’re not supposed to use any words that place blame. For example, He is an admitted homosexual is incorrect because the word “admitted” implies blame. “Gone missing” sounds like the person became missing of his or her own accord, and that it is therefore his or her fault.

Therefore, I think that I would lean closer to saying no to “gone missing.”

And again, sorry about the fast talking, and the Valley Girl thing. I was very nervous. And I always forget that I can’t stand the sound of my own voice!

Also, to clear one other thing up: I do have a job, a real job, a job that requires a college degree, a job that requires 40 hours of work each week. I’ve worked there for almost a year and you can read all about it in Kate’s Adventures under the category “Working Girl.” (I choose not to identify my employer by name in my blogs.)

I said what I said on the broadcast because I know that there are so many better opportunities out there.


37 responses to “On "Gone Missing"

  1. After hearing the segment on the radio today I googled “grammar vandal” and found your blog. I look forward to reading more of it .

    Here are some usages that bug me:

    This is between Thomas and I.
    Apple’s .59¢

    “Gone missing” to me sounds wrong.

    Your voice sounds just fine. I think the issue about hearing one’s own voice in a recording is the strangeness of it. It sounds somehow different. But given a certain repetition, it begins to sound normal, even pleasant.

    I’ve never been able to figure out the difference between “each other” and “one another.”

    Another thing is the apostrophe. It’s understandable that people misuse it. The MLA writes “1900s,” while the NYT goes for “1990’s.” To me the latter looks wrong.

  2. I heard your bit on NPR this afternoon as I was driving and I thought you were brilliant. I’m linking to you from my site, because I really enjoyed listening to your broadcast.

  3. Pre-Script: I apologize for any grammar mistakes. If there are any, they are mostly out of spite and my inability to find my coffee.


    As a student of linguistics, I could not listen to the broadcast without squirming. I, like the good linguist I am, am a “descriptivist” (as opposed to a “prescriptivist” that most English teachers are).

    However, why am I a descriptivist? Because I love English. It is my one and only true language, and I love it so much that I would hate to see it die! No, not hate– hate is too weak a word. I would suffer a fate worse than death should English die!

    You now may be wondering, “Die!? What do you mean die? Am I not keeping it alive, am I not keeping it pure by being so vigilant about grammar! About the laws set forth from…”

    But oh, how mistaken you are. To fossilize a language is to kill it.

    Look no further than Latin itself! Do not be persuaded by Classics majors! They believe the language is alive, but we linguists know better. Latin is dead. DEAD. Why? Because its grammar was encoded, prescribed and ultimately locked in place. The true language of the Roman Empire, the language known as “Romance” took its place, yet the speakers of “true and proper” Latin mocked it. But, where are the “true” Latin speakers today? They have died off! It is a myth that Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or French descended from the Latin you would learn in school. No, the Latin that those languages descended from has only one attestation from an uneducated nun.

    Even the Real Academia Española has learned from the tragedy of Latin. The Academia had the wisdom to officially recognize the spelling of “Septiembre” as “Setiembre”; it recognized the changing waves of common speech and embraced it to save Spanish from dying. But, the only reason it had to save Spanish was because it was the governing body of the standard Spanish language.

    Luckily, English has no such impediment. We are free to change our language as we want! The only restriction is social; if the populace demands it be correct, it MUST be correct! Otherwise would be utterly deleterious to the health of English: a Language is an organic being that is social- and as such it is determined by the speakers- but remember, that it is also organic. If you keep forcing it into shape, it will turn into some grotesque bonsai tree of a language that used to be English- my own true love.

    Therefore, I beg of you- please stop killing my language.

  4. Post-script: Everyone disagrees with the linguist. We’re used to it. Do your worst.

  5. Great radio segment. I have a question: At some point, you said, “I was like” to mean “I said”. Is this becoming standard usage? I even heard Terry Gross use it on “Fresh Air”. But it makes my skin crawl…any comments?

  6. I would also like to respond to this:

    “j-ho, language has been shown to influence thought as much as thought influences language. When we lose quality and specificity of language, we lose quality and specificity of thought, i.e., WE BECOME STUPIDER.

    Kate is fighting the good fight. I think you should do as Alexa suggests and save your “fertilizer” for the trees.”

    What of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis that has been found true doesn’t even come close to supporting your assertion. In fact, I think you have it backwards- if you are stupid, your language will probably be stupid.

  7. don’t sweat it, being on live radio is HARD if you’re not used to it. You did fine… er, well.

  8. this is not exactly a grammar error, it’s a spelling error; but it drives me NUTS when people write “loose” when they mean “lose”.

    Only LOSERS write LOOSER when they mean LOSER!

    You may find this page interesting, if you don’t know about it already:


  9. “Great radio segment. I have a question: At some point, you said, “I was like” to mean “I said”. Is this becoming standard usage? I even heard Terry Gross use it on “Fresh Air”. But it makes my skin crawl…any comments?”

    “to be like” is a new construction meaning “to say”, but with a more casual shade of meaning. Although “to say” would convey the same denotation, “to be like” carries a more casual denotation, making it perfect for use in say… an interview or a friendly conversation.

  10. I think you are my long-lost twin. My name is Kate, I’m 22 years old (and a Leo), I hate the sound of my own voice, and I’ve been called a “Grammar Nazi” on more than one occasion. I’ve also been spotted taking pictures of poor grammar in public.
    I now work as an interpreter, so I take it upon myself to invent linguistically accurate new words in both languages. Grammar has become my art.

    I loved your segment on NPR today. I was so proud of you for saying you would love to be arrested in a battle over an apostrophe.

    I wrote an article for a magazine last year, and the copy editors “corrected” my grammar and sent the changes to me for approval. I itemized the errors they and had made and gave a detailed description of why they needed to be changed back.

    The editors ignored the corrections, and printed my article their way. Now, I read the article and shake my head in frustration because I judge it for its grammatical ineptitude for an instant, and then I realize that I wrote it. I know it’s not the way the author originally relayed the information.
    The magazine was sent to over 100,000 subscribers.

    From this, I’ve developed a small benefit of the doubt for print journalists– especially if they are working with copy editors.

    P.S. I recently moved from the west coast to the east and I don’t hear variations of the infinitive “to be like” as frequently in conversation here.
    I do think it is common, and I agree that it is informal.

  11. I could not help but notice how many times the “Grammar Vandal” used slang such as, “You know”; “like”; “totally”, etc. As the mother of a 21 year old, I am well aware that those terms are commonly used by young adults. However, the usage of the latest slang is far from appropriate grammar.
    When I took a communications class at a community college, the instructor took points away from students who said, “you know”.

  12. i heard your segment on npr via podcast, and i thought you did a fabulous job.

  13. You talk quickly, right? That’s what you meant to say. I’m sure of it.


  14. The late, great Victor Borge once related his conversation with a theater manager investigating reports of thefts from dressing-rooms. The manager asked him, “Did you find anything missing?” Replied Borge, “If I found it, how would I know that it is missing?”

    Trust a non-native speaker to point out the absurdity of our language! Borge, a native of Denmark, was also fond of saying, “It’s your language, I’m just trying to use it.” So are we, Victor!

  15. I was heartened to hear on the BBC Radio 2 the presenter chiding his callers. Why? Many were emailing, lamenting over woeful television programmes and would start, “I was sat . . .”

    The piqued presenter asked for this to stop explaining, “You sat, or you were seated . . . not I was sat.”

    The BBC radio programmes may be many things, still it’s cheering that they generally maintain a fastidious attitude to correct English too 🙂

  16. When I took a communications class at a community college, the instructor took points away from students who said, “you know”.

    grrrrr. This is surely a purely personal issue, but my father used to get after me for saying ‘you know’ – he would interrupt me and repeat back ‘you know’ every time I would say it.

    of course, when I started to pay attention to his manner of speech, he used the phrase just as often as I did.

    He didn’t like it very much when I started doing the same thing to him. But, that’s the way he is – do as he says, not as he does. Probably part of the reason I don’t speak to him any longer…

  17. Kate – “gone missing” is simply a British idiom and as such probably does not require a lot of analysis. Here’s a link to an article about the use of Briticisms in the American press that I thought you might find interesting: http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i41/41b01501.htm

  18. I have heard “gone missing” used on Canadian news broadcasts, and also have heard it used on the BBC America channel shows. So maybe it is a more formal usage than Americans are used to.

    I am a big supporter of correct apostrophe usage, which appears to be a lost art.

    I was very irritated by the CitiBank ads that said “Live rich.” I ground my teeth every time I heard it, then they changed it to “Live richly.” I was pleasantly surprised.

    I also don’t like the term “pretty fun.”

    Also, people seem confused as to how to write plural numbers, as in 50s or letters, as in CDs. They know that their keyboard has an apostrophe on it, and they feel compelled to use it, like a florish or other final touch to complete a masterpiece. Arrgh.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, Kate, and if necessary we can setup a Paypal donation cup to bail you out of jail.

  19. I heard your segment on NPR and was a little mortified, to be honest. The examples you cited (Professors Row, Run Easy Boston) may be incorrect, but so what? They’re still perfectly understandable and effective.

    May I suggest that you spend your time raging against abuses of the English language that *really* matter, such as hate speech and racism?

    Lastly, I would just like to point out that when you start defacing property to correct a grammatical error, it’s time to get a life.

  20. “Live richly”

    If people lived richly, they wouldn’t have much of a bank account now would they? And what kind of self respecting bank wants that?

    That’s why they want you to live “rich”- as in “rich” in assets. Just as you can die “rich”, you can live “rich”.

    Now get over your misguided pedantry.

  21. in a headline: “is missing” is correct. Headlines, according to AP Style book used by most newspapers, need a verb.

    1920’s is wrong, 1920s is right. often mis-written

    Do you address the problem with ending sentences with “at” as in “where’d you eat at?”
    That is my biggest pet peeve.

  22. I agree with mofmog, to a point. English is constantly evolving and there are certainly grammar rules that fade through time and fall into disuse. Strict grammarians sometimes tenaciously cling to grammar rules that are too archaic for today’s everyday spoken English that if, actually used, would just sound awkard and pompous. I’m conscientious about using most grammar rules and try to use adverbs correctly, ‘I’ ‘me’ and ‘myself’ appropriately, and use ‘whom’ and ‘who’ as called for, but I would never say, “It is I” or complain about split infinitives. I think there is a fine line between sounding educated and sounding pretentious. I also think the use of language changes in different settings, depending on the audience. I, personally, wasn’t offended by Kate’s use of ‘like’ and ‘you know’ in what was an unscripted, and, what seemed like, an informal interview. However, NPR is a classy station so I kind of understand how others might expect better. I do think learning grammar is important, however, because it is so closely associated with being educated. I see no harm in fighting to teach correct grammar. It can only give people a leg up. Our language will continue to evolve in spite of grammarians’ efforts.

  23. “Do you address the problem with ending sentences with “at” as in “where’d you eat at?”
    That is my biggest pet peeve.”

    The “at” serves to reinforce the question as one pertaining to location. For example, “Where are you at?” Although the sentence means the same thing as “Where are you?”, the emphasis carries along with it different meaning or sense- a sense of “I DON’T CARE WHAT ELSE YOU”RE DOING I WANT TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE.”

    We even see something like this happen in (GASP!) Ancient Greek with the particle “de” which, you must be shocked to learn, means both but AND and. Now why would the Ancient Greeks (and by Greeks, I mean Plato, Homer, Xenophon, Demosthenes…) use such a useless word? A word so ambiguous? A word so unnecessary and cumbersome to the text? Because to them, it transferred a meaning, which although not literal, was still there. It conveyed an almost immaterial “sense” which sadly we have lost today (but we mostly think they were verbal italics when speakers forgot to place emphasized words at points of emphasis).

    Likewise, “at” at the end of a sentence conveys another sense, a locational sense. To rid of it would be to rid English of its greatest asset: it’s great ability to convey shades of meaning. Without it, we would have a rough and brutish language with an disability in nuance.

  24. Also, it seems kinda cool that “at” is being used adverbially. Indo-European prepositions actually started out as adverbs, so it’s sort of cool to see prepositions return to their ultra-ancient usage. 🙂

  25. I don’t know about the rest of you, but glaring grammatical errors don’t bother me as much as errors that are made by the supposedly educated because they’re trying to speak correctly, such as saying ‘I’ instead of ‘me’.

  26. Flibbertygibbet in Phoenix

    I have to admire your restraint in criticizing the presenter neither on air, nor in your blog, when, asked by Crystal in North Carolina, “How are you?” she replied, “I’m good, thank you.”

    We take it for granted that all NPR Presenters have an impeccable moral standing; upright citizens, one and all; but we do need to be reassured about their health, and know, beyond any doubt, that they are not only good, but that they are well.

    Another use of an adjective instead of an adverb has already been mentioned (“live richly”)so please do not hesitate to add an “ly” to the shoe ads, as well as your comma, so that Bostonians may run more easily.

    Now can you please do something about our use of “absolutely” when all we mean to say is “yes”?

  27. You did fine on NPR! (I understand completely about having a hard time hearing yourself on radio. I also have a hard time with that.) In fact, I was so impressed I’d like to invite you to be a freelance copy editor with my site, http://www.grammarbook.com. Let me introduce myself. I’m Jane Straus, author and (up until December 2007) publisher of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. I offer the entire contents of the book online for free along with a weekly e-newsletter, blog, and YouTube video casts. Even though my book is free, I have sold over 100,000 copies. The book is used in hundreds of schools throughout the U.S. and Canada and in many third-world countries. Jossey-Bass, a division of Wiley & Sons, just purchased the publishing rights but I kept all rights to the site.
    I get frequent requests for copy editing work, which I don’t have time to do. If you would like extra work, you could provide a tracking link from my site to yours. You would have complete control over your fees and jobs. I ask for a 15% referral fee and mention of my site and book on your site. By the way, Mary Brown, the other editor listed on my site, focuses only on content, not on grammar, punctuation, and usage.
    Please take a look at grammarbook.com and let me know your thoughts. In any case, good work. You rock!
    Jane Straus
    Author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, http://www.grammarbook.com
    Author of Enough is Enough! Stop Enduring and Start Living Your Extraordinary Life (Jossey-Bass, 2005) http://www.stopenduring.com

  28. “Now can you please do something about our use of “absolutely” when all we mean to say is “yes”?”

    No, please don’t. Absolutely has its own shade of meaning. It carries information beyond just “yes”; it carries the idea of, “Of course! No inhibitions!”

    “Will you go have your car washed?”



    “Will you go have your car washed?”


    The first response is ambiguous in terms of intent. Does “yes” mean, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it”, “I’ll do it because you paid me”, or “I’ll do it because I was going to do it anyways”?

    But the second is clearer. It means, “I’ll do it because I think it’s a great idea!”.

    That’s why we have the word “absolutely” in place of “yes”. Shades of meaning.

  29. Chris from Austin, TX here.

    A seafood market here won a reader’s choice award from the Austin Chronicle (a free weekly newspaper). They received a vinyl banner that they proudly hung in the store, and which proclaimed them Austin’s “Best Fish Mongerer”.

    Also saw a sign on the deck of a local restaurant instructing patrons to “See inside hostess for seating”. She must be very accomodating.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  30. I enjoyed your interview on NPR.

    I’ve got to disagree with you about the plurals of abbreviations, like “CD’s” for more than one compact disk. This may be an example of a change in usage with time, but when I went to school (I graduated high school in 1971), proper usage was to use an apostrophe in pluralizing abbreviations or years (CD’s, 1950’s).

    As for “gone missing?” It sounds wrong to me.

    My pet usage peeve is using a singular verb with data. Sorry, but “data” is the plural form, so it’s “data are missing” not “data is missing.”

    I’m also getting increasingly annoyed by horrid spelling. I saw “sandels” on sale in a store, and a newspaper headline referring to “New Cannan” (it’s New Canaan).

    We need more people like you, Kate.

  31. Kate, a number of people, including a professional linguist (apparently) have asked you relatively polite questions about why you pursue your grammatical quest and if you know anything about academic responses to grammatical school-marmism.

    I am not a linguist myself (a chemist actually), but I know several of them, and I can assure you that they view this sort of prescriptive nitpicking with the utmost scorn. Why? You might read my comment on your original NPR post, or you could go here for a better explanation.

    In the spirit of open debate, at least throw us a bone, eh?

  32. Why do I do this, Russell?

    I like it. It just fell into my lap. From my very first post on katesadventures.com, I was hooked. For the first time, I felt like I had found my niche in the blogging world.

    That being said, I need time to think before I explore that further.

    I wish I could devote all my time to this blog, but it’s so tough between working and commuting….

    I promise that I will give you an answer. I just need some time to think.

  33. I agree with mofmog that descriptivism is more appropriate to linguistics than prescriptivism; but prescriptivism is more fun, provided that it is undertaken with a sense of humor, as the GV does.

    A couple of other quibbles:

    Latin didn’t so much die as evolve (or devolve?) into Vulgar Latin, then the romance languages, like Spanish, French, Catalan, etc. And I doubt that grammar police had anything to do with Classical Latin’s demise.

    Many Spanish-speakers may pronounce “septiembre” “setiembre” but you’ll never see it spelled that way in the print media. There are probably thousands of variations of pronunciation that are not recognized by the RAE. The RAE started out as a prescriptivist organization, but has become an organization devoted to the unity of the language.

    English too will evolve, and if you were to come back to life in 800 years; I doubt you would recognize it.

    It seems to me that you vastly overestimate the power of prescriptivists to influence things. The language will make its own way, say what they may.

    I also disagree with your explanation of “at” at the end of the sentence. I think the reason has to do with rhythm:

    Where you AT? – has a nice accent on the last syllable, as if to stress the sharpness of the question.

    Where are you? – just doesn’t have the same punch, despite its grammatical correctness.

  34. “Gone missing” is current usage among Canadians. A Canadian librarian colleague of mine invariably uses the expression, as in “That book has gone missing.”

    I am puzzled by people who invariably answer a question, and often start a declarative sentence, with the word “well…” What purpose does the “well” serve? I sometimes do it from ancient habit, but I’m trying to avoid saying it.

    Worse, and much more recent, is the habit of starting the declarative sentence with the phrase “I mean…”

    The playwright David Edgar had a character in his “Continental divide” plays named Basically. You guessed it … she invariably included that word in every sentence.

    Other peeves of mine include complete confusion of “farther ” and “further,” and, of course, the complete abandonment of “who” and “whom,” especially among news commentators and other cultural icons.

    Why do sportswriters constantly write “tendinitis?” It’s an inflammation of the tendons, therefore the word is “tendonitis.”

  35. In her first post, Kate writes “My love for language grew out of my love of books”. But I’m not seeing any love for language here. All I see is complaining.

    English is changing, and that’s normal. Change is a fact of all languages. If Kate loves language as much as she claims, I’d recommend that she do some reading in linguistics to find out how languages work.

  36. I admit, the “at” thing is all conjecture, BUT

    “Latin didn’t so much die as evolve (or devolve?) into Vulgar Latin, then the romance languages, like Spanish, French, Catalan, etc. And I doubt that grammar police had anything to do with Classical Latin’s demise.

    Many Spanish-speakers may pronounce “septiembre” “setiembre” but you’ll never see it spelled that way in the print media. There are probably thousands of variations of pronunciation that are not recognized by the RAE. The RAE started out as a prescriptivist organization, but has become an organization devoted to the unity of the language.”

    Ooh, ok. Latin, as in Classical Latin, (the language of Cicero) is a highly stylized “dialect” of Latin. Think of it like Jane Austen on crack- Classical Latin had a vocabulary which was much more “polished” than the Vulgar speak. It retained some old ways of speaking (and created some of its own) in divergence from the Vulgar Latin. (For example, Vulgar used “de” as a possessive preposition, use of kata for each etc.)

    And indeed, the “grammar police” did have everything to do with the death of Latin- or at least its rotting. Notice how Latin classes don’t teach anything beyond the silver age (or even the Augustan age at that!). Happen to know why? Because most of the “high class” writers near the downfall were basically copping the Augustan language, which basically resulted in not only literary stagnation but total incomprehension by the lower classes.

    Also, “setiembre” is indeed a “correct” RAE (however uncommon” spelling.

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