I’ll Be Hanged! Or, Have I Just Gone Missing?

Several readers responded to Tom Stern’s article The Media Made Me Do It, which asked for alternatives to gone missing. Interestingly, the overwhelming choice was to simply replace the phrase with missing.

This is fine in many, perhaps most, cases, e.g., The man was missing instead of The man went missing. But it’s no help at all in sentences such as The man went missing two days ago. For such sentences, we have few options other than disappeared or vanished, which, as Stern pointed out, sounds as if the man in question were more the victim of a magic trick than a potential tragedy.

So dig deeper, readers! If you can come up with an inspired alternative to The man went missing two days ago, many will thank you for having done our beloved language a great service.

HANG IT ALL

Speakers and writers who value precision know that the past tense of hang, when it means “to put to death using a rope,” is hanged, rather than hung. This applies to both the active and passive voice: They hanged the prisoner and The prisoner was hanged.

For inanimate objects, use hung. Under unusual conditions, people also hung or are hung, e.g., He hung from the tree with one hand or He found himself hung upside down.

POP QUIZ
Select the correct word for each sentence.

1. We hung/hanged the stockings by the chimney with care.
2. The angry mob hung/hanged the outlaw Gomer Dooley.
3. The disgraced prime minister was hung/hanged from a lamppost in the town square.
4. An effigy of the prime minister was hung/hanged from a lamppost in the town square.
5. The man hung/hanged from the rafters with a rope around his waist.

POP QUIZ ANSWERS

1. We hung the stockings by the chimney with care.
2. The angry mob hanged the outlaw Gomer Dooley.
3. The disgraced prime minister was hanged from a lamppost in the town square.
4. An effigy of the prime minister was hung from a lamppost in the town square.
5. The man hung from the rafters with a rope around his waist.


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13 Comments on I’ll Be Hanged! Or, Have I Just Gone Missing?

13 responses to “I’ll Be Hanged! Or, Have I Just Gone Missing?”

  1. David R. says:

    How about, “The man became missing …” or “The man’s absence began…..” I am not thrilled with them but they are a try.

  2. Mimi M. says:

    The man has been missing for several days.
    She has been missing since last Tuesday.
    The police say that the girl has been missing for 36 hours.
    He vanished without a trace five days ago.
    No one has seen or heard from Tom for a month.
    On Monday, the family described Janet as missing.

  3. Chris S. says:

    Thank you for this one. That phrase, “gone missing” I had never heard, I swear, until perhaps ten years ago. It makes me cringe every time I hear it!!! Thank you to Jane, for originally pointing this out! Thank you for publishing it!

    Here’s another new trend which bothers me: turning nouns into verbs! Here’s an example: “I have found the benefits of juicing!” “Juicing?” When on God’s green earth did the word “juice” become a verb? At now sixty-five, I can’t think of more examples, but they will come to me.
    All I do know is that when I hear what has been a noun to me, virtually all my life, used as a verb, the effect on my brain is similar to that of fingernails on a black board, on one’s ears…

    When other “noun-turned-to-verb” transformations occur to me, I will send them on to you if you are interested!

    • Verb-into-noun and noun-into-verb formations have always made English watchdogs howl. But over time, some become standard English. About a century ago, when “contact” became a verb, it scandalized polite society!

  4. Thank you to everyone for your creativity in helping to solve the problem of “The man has gone missing.” We do fear, though, there may be other far more recalcitrant “gone missing” sentences lurking in the weeds.

  5. Grant E. says:

    Perhaps “Is/Was missing as of two days ago”?

  6. Fiona D. says:

    How about – “the man has been missing since …”

  7. Jill Fiereck says:

    Rather than “The man went missing two days ago” how about “The man has been missing for two days” or “The man has been missing for two days now.”

  8. Fran Mohr says:

    Suggestions from my editor guru friend, Terry Redman.

    The man was last seen yesterday.
    The man’s wife/son/coworkers reported him missing yesterday (or . . . last saw him yesterday).
    The last contact with the man was yesterday.
    The man did not return home yesterday.

    The answer is giving more details. I would never write any form of “went missing.” It’s so awkward.

  9. CatBallou says:

    The man has been missing for two days.
    Or
    The man has been missing since Monday.

  10. Janet H says:

    The man has been missing for two days.

  11. Dean says:

    With regard to the sentence The man went missing, here are a couple of alternatives which may suffice:

    The man has not been seen for two days.

    There has been no trace of the man for two days.

  12. Robert W. says:

    The missing man was last seen (accounted for) two days ago.

    OR

    The man is missing; last seen (accounted for) two days ago.

    short, sweet and grammatically correct…yes?

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