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

GONE MISSING

Several readers responded to our recent 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 is missing or has been 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, readers suggested has been missing since Monday or was discovered to be missing on Friday, March 8. Otherwise, we have few options other than disappeared or vanished, which, as Tom Stern pointed out, sounds as if the man in question were more the victim of a magic trick than a potential tragedy.

One reader mentioned running across an expression even worse than gone missingshowed up missing. Now there’s an oxymoron for you.

A few people asked what’s wrong with gone missing? It makes perfect sense to them. And likely to many others.

We wish to thank all of you for your suggestions. You’ve provided some useful alternatives.

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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