Monday, November 28, 2005

Went Shopping, Went Missing, Went Dead.

“Went missing.” Where did we get this imbecile phrase?

The Alabama teen that disappeared during a school trip in the Islands “went missing,” at least according to news accounts and the cops.

Judge Crater didn’t “went missing,” he vanished.

So have hundreds of thousands of other people over time.

But now, people don’t vanish, disappear, get kidnapped, abducted or captured.

They “go missing.”

Like someone went shopping. Or went out to eat. Or went to bed.

Well, if we’re going to use this construction, let’s really USE it.

A guy got pushed off a subway platform in New York the other day, was struck by a train and… and… what? Died? But not before parts of him went missing. They were later found below the tracks. So, the parts “went found.”

But did the guy die, or was it that he “went dead.” Like a telephone line without a dial tone or a cable TV box when you don’t pay the bill. (or when you do, but the cable company’s transmission “went ka-flooey.”

It’s politically incorrect, but historically common to say someone who lost his mind “went nuts.”

I guy loses control of his car and hits a tree. Earlier that evening, he “went drunk.”

The woman “went pregnant.”

Mere semantics, you say?

Semantics, yes. “Mere” semantics, no.

Words represent concepts.

Regular readers/listeners to these rants know that. Or at least this space has “went conceptual” more than once.

So what is the concept we’re examining when someone “went missing?”

Why it’s this: the person bears no responsibility for the action. Something happened over which the person who “went” had no control.

The Alabama teen had no say in her disappearance. Or did she? At this writing, we don’t know. She may have willingly gone along with her captor or captors. Or not.

The guy who “went drunk” HAD control over his situation, at least until the third martini.

The guy on the subway platform did not. And his limbs and other assorted parts CERTAINLY did not.

So, “went missing” leaves the (not so clear) implication that the person had nothing to do with what happened to him.

The cop who was shot in the line of duty yesterday (11/27/05) went dead after doctors failed to save his life.

But saying it that way sounds… well… imbecilic.

Now.

But not for long.

Once one of these phrases gets into the language, it tends to stick and expand.

How many times have you heard the relatively recent “at the end of the day….”?

It might have been good usage the first time or even the first thousand times, when applied to something that actually happened at the end of a day.

But now, it’s EVERYWHERE.

Soon, the word “went” will be applied to all kinds of things we’re not used to hearing. And by this time next year, we’ll accept it as part of the language.

This essay has “went done.”

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.™

©wjr 2005

1 comment:

John G said...

To me the most annoying linguistic development of recent years--and one that has psychological implications for sure--is the proliferation of "needs." Everything nowadays bespeaks some hitherto unrecognized need. "Call me" has become "You need to call me." An ad for local radio praises that institution's ability to meet our "basic information and entertainment needs." So entertainment is now a basic need?
Needification is a plague. I look forward to the day when we can say it WENT extinct.