Disappeared as transitive

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Mar 19 03:28:25 UTC 2013

I looked at the OED again and there is a little more to the story.

As noted in the Language Log article, the OED has the transitive use to 1979, and says: "Originally and chiefly after American Spanish desaparecido." The entry for "desaparecido" has 1977 as the earliest citation and cites the military rule in Argentina that started in 1976.

However, the OED also has an entry for "disappeared" which has this meaning under two definitions. One has as the earliest citation 1969 "The beheaded, the disappeared, the living Mad" and says "In spec. use, freq. with reference to Latin America and prob. originally after Spanish desaparecido." The 1969 quote is from Bukowski's "Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills," which is poetry. The next citation appears to be in reference to the dirty war in Argentina.

The other relevant meaning under "disappeared," however, goes back to 1947 "The issue of the disappeared Polish officers is..." in reference evidently to WWII and is also labelled as euphemistic. The other citations are 1974 (Latin America?), 1989 (Argentina) and 1998 (Indonesia).

The intransitive citations go back to 1941 in reference to Germany. The next after that is 1968 in reference to Guatemala.

To summarize, if we discount the 1897 chemical use, the 1949 magician use, and the two 1940s WWII uses as nonce or not directly related, and the 1969 Bukowski as poetic license, then Spanish seems likely to be the source.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

On Mar 17, 2013, at 6:08 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:

> OED has transitive "disappear" from 1897, and it has the relevant sense with
> reference to Latin American political abductions (after Sp. "desaparecido")
> from 1979. I reproduced the citations in this Language Log post:
> http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3652
> On Sun, Mar 17, 2013 at 7:51 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> Heller used this near the end of Catch-22, IIRC. That would have been in
>> 1961.
>> It was popularized, possibly via a parallel inspiration in Spanish, during
>> the military dictatorship in Argentina.
>> On Sun, Mar 17, 2013 at 7:36 PM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>>> The election of Argentinean cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as papa has =
>>> brought Argentina's dirty war into the news.
>>> Twice I've seen "disappeared" used as a transitive verb in quotes in the =
>>> Seattle Times without any explanation or reason. It seems more difficult =
>>> to use "disappear" this way and add the quotes than to say "make someone =
>>> disappear," so I'm puzzled by this use. An example can be seen in the =
>>> Washington Post as well =
>>> (
>>> http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/vatican-defends-pope-francis-a=
>>> gainst-argentina-dirty-war-allegations/2013/03/15/d4a11e3c-8d90-11e2-9f54-=
>>> f3fdd70acad2_story.html)
>>> -----
>>> But questions about the activities of Bergoglio from 1976 to 1983, when =
>>> a military dictatorship terrorized much of Argentina and =93disappeared=94=
>>> thousands of its own citizens, remain a cloud over his papacy=92s =
>>> otherwise bright early days.
>>> -----
>>> I assume this comes from Spanish. Here again, though, nobody is being =
>>> quoted, either in Spanish or Latin.
>>> Wiktionary claims a transitive meaning of "disappear" =
>>> (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/disappear) with a 1973 Heller citation, =
>>> and provides desaparecer as the Spanish translation (though =
>>> http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/desaparecer#Spanish doesn't provide a =
>>> transitive meaning, it could just be incomplete).

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