Larry Buford

*When asked what they did over the weekend we may get responses from people like “I went fishing,” “I went bowling,” “I went skiing,” or other activities that conjure a visual. But it would be odd to hear someone say “I went missing.” Can you picture that? Have you ever encountered a sign that read “Gone Missing,” like “Gone Fishing?” In our minds we can see someone on a riverbank with a fishing pole, but gone missing?

We hear it a lot in news reports these days that “He (or she) ‘went missing.’” What does that mean? Generally when we hear that a person is lost, has disappeared, or has vanished, we rationalize that it was unintentional. Whether or not someone ‘is missing’ is dependent upon observation by others, but the assumption cannot be made that someone deliberately ‘went missing.’ Someone may intentionally not want to be found, so they could say after the fact in the first person “I went missing,” but to say ‘went’ in the second person (you) or third person (he, she) can only be affirmed by the actual person who went.

Many believe the term ‘went missing’ has British origin dating back to the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and that heavy British news coverage of the disappearance of youngster Elizabeth McCann in 2007 may have influenced American reporters. Be that as it may, I find it interesting that we’ve allowed into our lexicon yet another meaning to further confuse those endeavoring to learn the English language. I’m sure it became a reference for many (e.g. ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’) when comedian/actor Stan Laurel punned, “You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.” While foreigners (notice the ‘i’ ‘e’ rule?) are being taught that ‘went’ is the past tense of  ‘go’ – which by the way has a gazillion formal and informal meanings for such a small word – how can it be simplified in terms of a place or even an activity as described above? ‘Missing’ is not a place – I did a search and could not find one place on the globe that goes (interesting word usage here too) by that name. However, I did find a place called Nowhere, Oklahoma that could be synonymous to Missing as in nowhere to be found. Upon learning that her childhood home in Oakland,California had been torn down, renowned author Gertrude Stein declared “There is no there, there.” Over the years that quote from her book “Everybody’s Autobiography” has been misconstrued as a reference to the city itself.

Speaking of authors, the only thing I found close to a place called Missing is in a fictional book – “A Place Called Here” by Cecilia Ahern – about a person obsessed with finding missing persons who goes missing herself and ends up in a place where she finds all the people (and things) she’d been looking for. I guess we could say she went looking and found herself missing.

If a person says “I got lost” we interpret it as the person lost his way or direction. To say “I went and got lost” is to suggest the person intentionally did not want to be found. Such a distinction could be dangerous in the court of public opinion driven by the media. This is a stretch, but let’s just say hypothetically that a person was kidnapped, or disappeared under suspicious circumstances; witnesses or those who last saw the victim state that the person went missing; and by interpretation or misinterpretation some lawyer uses it as a defense strategy in a court of  law – citing that the victim voluntarily ‘went’ with the abductors based upon police report statements. You never know…stranger things have happened.

Well, I found myself  ‘missing’ most of the weekend working on this piece, so today if anyone asks for me, tell them I went hiking.

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at (213) 220-8101.