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“Went Missing” and Other Annoying Phrases

Readers pepper columnist with questions

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

Have you seen those articles about the catchy words and phrases of 2007? How about annoying phrases such as "went missing"?

As many of you have pointed out, "went missing" makes no sense. The phrase combines two antithetical concepts: movement and disappearance. One can "go home" or "go to the store," but can one "go missing"?

Nevertheless, print journalists and broadcasters have embraced the phrase. One might argue it’s handy, it’s better than "was found missing," it makes as much sense as "turned up missing," it’s less melodramatic than "disappeared" and "vanished," and if one can "go crazy," why can’t one "go missing"?

Nevertheless, I agree that the phrase is annoying. How about "was reported missing"?

In reference to the baseball playoffs, Gerry writes, "My husband and I have this same discussion every year about ‘the best of seven.’ I think it was a slogan that some sports writer started many years ago, and it caught on. If you only play five games, how can you say that? It would only work if you played seven games. It probably is grammatically correct, but is it a correct statement?

"I promise if you agree with me, I will drop the subject but I will smile to myself. If you agree with my husband, I will probably not tell him."

Although "the first team to win four games" may seem more logical, "the best of seven" is clear and concise. In addition, it requires a little mental arithmetic, which is good for us, so I’m going to side with your husband. And, Gerry, I think you should tell him.

Al writes, "I wish you would write about the abuse of the word ‘got.’ When I was teaching (15 years ago), I told my sixth graders to try to never use the word. So many TV people and people on the national talk show scene abuse the word. They say, ‘I’ve got to go.’ ‘We’ve got to do this or that.’

"It burns my ears when they seem to put verbal emphasis on ‘got.’ Couldn’t they just say, ‘I have to go’ or ‘We have to do this’?"

Yes, Al, they could, and I wish they would.

As I wrote in an earlier column, if you’re unconcerned about how common "get" and "got" are getting to be, you need to get with it because, believe me, we’ve got problems. Forgive me if I get on my soapbox, but I don’t want you to get complacent. We gotta get started on a solution.

In case you missed that column, I’ve posted it on my website under "Got: misuse and overuse."

As I say there, the "getting" and "gotting" of American English threatens our ability to express ourselves with precision, if you get my meaning. My concern is that if we stop using more interesting and colorful words such as "arouse" and "induce," those words may get dropped (or vanish) from our vocabulary.

Who knows? They may even go missing.



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