"Dilemma" and "Gone Missing"

An excerpt from Grammar Girl’s new book, 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time
Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #327

“Gone Missing”: Annoying, but not Wrong

"Gone missing" is a Briticism that has made its way to the U.S., where reporters use it mostly to describe missing persons. Although journalists and newscasters seem to love "gone missing," it’s easy to find vocal readers and viewers who hate it.

Haters argue that a person must go to a location, and "missing" isn’t a place, and that an inanimate object can’t go missing because it can’t take action alone—but English has never been so literal.

In a tight labor market, jobs can go begging (be unfilled), for example, even though "begging" is not a location and jobs can’t take action.

Other peevers suggest that "gone missing" necessitates an action on the part of the person or item that has vanished. Again, we have parallels that undermine the argument: Milk goes bad, for example, without taking any action on its own.

"Gone missing" is not wrong. The Oxford English Dictionary places it in the same category as the phrase "go native," as in, "We had high hopes for our new senator, but after he was in Washington a few months, he went native," (i.e., adopted the same habits and attitudes as people who’ve been there a long time).

What Should You Do? If "gone missing" bothers you, use a word such as "disappeared" in your own writing. You can criticize "gone missing" as annoying if you like, but not as incorrect.

If you’re writing for a newspaper or TV show though, be aware that "gone missing" annoys part of your audience. You should probably should think twice before using it.

Those tips were both from my new book, 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time. Some of the other words and phrases I cover are "begs the question," "done" versus "finished," "myriad," "grow" (for example, is it OK to say "grow the economy"?), and "a pair of twins" (is that two people or four people?) Get your copy today at an online or local bookstore, and if you like it, please leave review.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.