4

While watching an early episode of the TV show, "The Blacklist," one of the characters used the phrase:

We got the list of the people he disappeared.

I'm sure they meant the people the bad guy helped to disappear, but shouldn't "he disappeared" mean that he, the bad guy disappeared?

What, exactly, did the character mean when he said that and what would be a grammatically correct way to say it?

2
  • tidbit: to disappear people became common when it was used to explain that people had disappeared in Argentina during the junta in the seventies. Before that, it was not used like this.
    – Lambie
    Apr 11, 2021 at 20:00
  • Apart from me remembering Chile (probably because I didn’t live in the uk during the Thatcher era), that’s where it comes from.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 12, 2021 at 6:38

1 Answer 1

17

If you look up disappear in the dictionary, you'll see that it has a transitive meaning:

to cause the disappearance of

This is exactly the meaning that's being used in the sentence you quote:

We got the list of the people he caused the disappearance of.

Usually, this transitive use of disappear, especially disappearing other people, has very sinister overtones. You'll see it used with secret police in totalitarian dictatorships, for example, or maybe with mafia-like criminal organizations. The implication is that the person or organization doing the disappearing has enough power and resources that they aren't just killing their enemies, they're invisibly snatching them away and destroying all evidence of their existence.


Edited to add:

I wrote "usually" above about the political implications of the transitive disappear, but the more I thought about it, the more I think that it is almost exclusively used in this case. Wikipedia says this about the word disappeared:

The term disappeared most commonly refers to the victims of forced disappearance.

Where forced disappearance has a particular meaning in international human rights law of a government's secret abduction, detention, and presumed execution of political enemies without a fair trial. If applied to an actor other than a government agent, it would imply that person belongs to an organization with power rivaling that of a national government.

This matches my gut sense of the transitive disappear as well. A native-speaking mother would not say to her child, "You disappeared your entire dinner - good job!" But you would read something like, "After German reunification and the declassification of Stasi documents, some of the relatives of the disappeared have finally learned the fate of their loved ones."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .