I am writing to ask for your expertise on the phrase "went missing" - the media sorts seem to use this phrase for the many disappearances of folk. It sounds wacky and I am not sure why. A person could have engaged in a sport (went skiing), or on a retail mission (went shopping). The verb and -ing connection is used for some activities. But, could a person have gone on a missing venture - thereby, be referred as "went missing?"
I appreciate the education on this current description. (I think "gone missing" is also used and it, too, sounds wacky.)
I've heard the expressions so often I hadn't thought about them, but when you raised the question I immediately guessed that they're British expressions. So they might well sound odd to Americans. I then found a website full of discussion of the origins of clichés. And here is what I read (reformatted to make it easier to read):
go missing/gone missing/went missing - disappear/disappeared, not been where expected to be (of someone or something) - Interesting this. Most English folk would never dream of asking the question as to this expression's origins because the cliche is so well-used and accepted in the UK - it's just a part of normal language that everyone takes for granted on a purely logical and literal basis.
This supports my view that the origins of 'go missing', gone missing', and 'went missing' are English (British English language), not American nor Canadian, as some have suggested. The common interpretation describes someone or something when they not shown up as expected, in which case it simply refers to the person having 'gone' (past tense of 'go'), ie., physically moved elsewhere by some method or another, and being 'missing' (= absent), ie., not being where they should be or expected to be (by other or others).
Most sources seem to suggest 'disappeared' as the simplest single word alternative. The expression is very occasionally used also in a metaphorical sense to describe someone not paying attention or failing to attend to a task, which is an allusion to their mind or attention being on something other than the subject or issue at hand (in the same way that 'AWOL', 'gone walkabouts' might also be used).
I've heard it suggested that the 'gone' part is superfluous, but in my opinion 'gone missing' more precisely describes the state of being simply just 'missing', the former conveying a sense of being more recently, and by implication, concerningly, 'missing'. 'Went missing' is another similar version of the same expression.
While the word 'missing' in this sense (absent), and form, has been in use in English since the 14th century, 'go missing' and variants are not likely to be anything like this old, their age more aptly being measured in decades rather than centuries.
Mark Israel, a modern and excellent etymologist expressed the following views about the subject via a Google groups exchange in 1996: He said he was unable to find "to go missing" in any of his US dictionaries, but did find it in Collins English Dictionary (a British dictionary), in which the definition was "to become lost or disappear". The Collins Dictionary indicated several Canadian (and presumably USA) origins, but no foreign root (non-British English) was suggested for the 'go missing' term.