In 1946 George Orwell wrote the essay Politics and the English Language in which he warns about the power of words and how their use influences our thinking. Perhaps we have come to the place of which he warns us. The internet has given folks with less understanding of English than a sportscaster access to readers who will copy misuse out of ignorance or convenience. That is how, I believe, the verb quote has evolved into being a noun and hopefully has become an adverb. So be it: After all, language changes. For instance, examine the words gay and faggot. As I used to tell my students, the purpose of language is to communicate. Yet, I also reminded them that communication should be a roadmap to what the speaker or writer is thinking, not an incoherent or ambiguous garble.. Having grown up reading such columnists as Kays Gary, Jim Bishop, Sydney J. Harris, George Will, and James Kilpatrick; and the King James Version of the Bible, a certain grammar of communication, regardless of my political or personal belief, became entrenched in me.
Recently I heard an NPR report concerning missing indigenous women. Now that is a serious situation, no matter if the missing person is a tribal member, adult, male or female, or a child. To have a loved person just disappear is a pain I cannot imagine.
However, in the report the hostess for NPR repeated the phrase, went/go/gone missing, as in, “A large number of indigenous women in the Seattle area have gone missing.” As a concerned listener, I understood the message of the hostess. She had communicated with me, her listener. So what is the issue?
Just as gravity does, rules keep us grounded and not floating all about. The popular misuse of the past tense of go, such as the three mentioned above, is wrong. When we say that “Harold went missing”, for example, what we mean is not what we say. What we say is that Harold went to a place, missing, that does not exist. Now, there is a fine word that can be used: “Harold disappeared.” Not only is this use shorter and more to the point, it is accurate. Yes, some readers will accuse me of charging windmills, and I accept that. I have reluctantly recognized went as a transitive verb, quote as a noun, and all the other changes of convenience to our language. However, Orwell is, for me, the grammarian as is Will and others. If we continue changing out of laziness, we will soon not have any force to keep us grounded. As mentioned, the internet is now what too many use as a reliable source of information—look at Facebook.
We have become so lazy or uninformed or both that we even fail to properly understand the relationship between an independent clause and dependent clause, allowing politicians and others to convince us that we can do nothing to stop our children from being shot at their schools.