Tuesday, June 29, 2004

On Language and on Safire

William Safire writes about the phrase "gone missing." There are many who would say the usage is incorrect, and there was a time it grated on my ears, as well. But what's a good replacement? I feel the same about "gone missing" as I do about "proactive." Here's what Safire had to say:
No other term quite encapsulates "to become lost inexplicably and unexpectedly," which connotes suspicion of trouble. From the most serious loss (a person kidnapped, or a soldier unaccounted for or absent without leave) to an irritating minor loss (an object is mislaid), to go missing -- always in its past tense, went, or past participle, gone -- conveys a worried, nonspecific meaning that no other word or phrase quite does.
There's a nice discussion (not just a post; they've added comments!) over at Language Log about the article. Read the whole thing, but here's my favorite part: when they break down Safire's use of the idiom panacea.

Safire says:
because gone missing has acquired the status of an idiom, which is "an unassailable peculiarity," it is incorrect to correct it. As the fumblerule goes, "Idioms is idioms." Relax and enjoy them.
Language Log says:
Safire seems to completely buy the idea that usage can trump what would otherwise be good grammar. All you have to do is find an excuse to label your preferred usage idiomatic, and it's just fine and dandy with the relaxed Mr. Safire. For idioms may be peculiar, but as everyone knows, they are unassailable.
This reminds me of the debate over "on condition of anonymity" vs. "on the condition of anonymity." That basically boiled down to: "One the condition" is grammatically correct, but omitting the "the" has become idiomatic.


Post a Comment

<< Home