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BACKGROUND

All the online dictionaries that I've consulted, Oxford, Merriam-Webster, etc, list "abscond" as an intransitive verb, a verb that does not take an object. Not unless with the help of a preposition such as "with" and "from". Here are the intransitive uses of the verb as shown in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, :

She absconded (=escaped) from every children’s home they placed her in.

He absconded (=left secretly) with the company funds.

That said, I was reading this Huffington Post article on grammar titled "Getting Grammatical: What's the Big Deal With the Passive Voice?" by David Kudler, an "expert" on writing, I guess.

There, I came across this use of "abscond" in the passive voice:

These folks loved the passive voice, for the same reason that less-experienced writers everywhere do: they thought that, because it’s more complicated, it would sound more sophisticated or official. In fact, the opposite is the case. My students would write things like The suspect was apprehended by this officer instead of I arrested her or The vehicle which had been absconded with was pursued by me in my police vehicle instead of I followed the stolen Ford Taurus in my police car. Honest to goodness -- they really did write this stuff. If you were a jury or a supervisor, which would you find clearer and more effective?

(Boldface mine.)

In context, I don't think the author intended the example sentence having abscond to be ungrammatical, because he wanted it to be grammatical but less clear and less effective than the active-voice counterpart.

At first, I thought that the passive was possible here because the phrase "abscond with" acted as a single unit and took the object "which". So I thought that "with" there might not be left out.

But then, I did some research and, to my surprise, found both AmE and BrE uses of "abscond" in the passive voice without "with" or "from" following it.

A separate investigation into how the children were absconded Sept. 19 from Forestdale Child Agency in Queens during a supervised visit is still continuing. (From CBS New York, "Mom Accused Of Abducting 8 Children Tells Her Side Of The Story")

However, Stella McCartney (recipient of the Red Carpet Award) and 40-year-old Stella Tennant (a worthy Model of the Year whose three-decade career has just enjoyed one of its busiest years) had gone missing in action, lost somewhere on the journey from the ceremony to the party. By the time we located them (no, McCartney hadn't been absconded by the rock-and-roll set: "My days of running off with Kate Moss are over," she promised), dinner had been served. (From Telegraph, "British Fashion Award 2011: Fashion's most talented line-up in a generation")

QUESTIONS

(1) In the first use of the word (Huffington Post), is "with" obligatory?

(2) I don't know if the latter two uses are simply editing mistakes wherein the editor mistakenly omitted "with". Or are these simply legitimate uses that have yet to show up in some of the dictionaries that I consulted?

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    OED lists both transitive and intransitive usage, with most recent citation 2003 and 2005 respectively. – FumbleFingers Apr 23 '15 at 20:29
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    Could you give me an example of the word being used as a transitive verb as shown in OED? – JK2 Apr 23 '15 at 21:00
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    1. trans. To hide, conceal; to obscure. Ex 1941 Like most common people, they do not abscond or conceal. 2. trans. (refl.). To hide oneself; to flee into hiding. Ex 2003 The defendant ... had tried to abscond himself out of the country from Sungai Tujoh Control Post a day before he was brought to the court. 3. intr. To hide oneself; to flee into hiding, or to an inaccessible place; to leave hurriedly and secretly, typically to elude a creditor, escape from custody, or avoid arrest. Ex 2005 McCague — who has absconded — was sentenced in absence to five years in jail. – FumbleFingers Apr 23 '15 at 22:11
  • Thanks. So the transitive uses in OED are not exactly the same as the transitive uses of the latter two examples of mine. Hmm. – JK2 Apr 23 '15 at 22:38
  • OED says the two transitive usages are "rare". My guess would be your last two examples are at the very least influenced by abducted. Particularly the second, where arguably it's a simple mistake, but I suspect that semantically there may be sound reasons for the choice in the context of the Child Agency (you wouldn't normally abduct your own children, but it seems fine to abscond [with] them). – FumbleFingers Apr 24 '15 at 12:31
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Since the Huffpo example is quoting police officers using the passive voice to make themselves look important or learned, the "writer" (David Kudler) is most certainly not using your verb in the passive . In fact, he is guying that usage, bless his cotton socks.

I'd like to share something similar from my nearly 30 years as a translator:

‘With respect to the oil rig, the pricing of the oil rig was priced in the order of magnitude of ten million dollars’.

What's wrong with ‘The oil rig was priced at approx. ten million dollars’? Because, like Kudler's cops, the author believed that more verbiage made him look more Heddicated.

Your two other quoted examples are simply ignorant, and this curmudgeon hopes he's good and dead before they become 'legitimate'. For many people today, including, um, entities paid to write, all fairly long words are replaceable by any other words beginning with the same letter and about the same length. We should call this century the Age of Mrs. Malaprop.

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    Don't hold back, David, tell us how you really feel. Nice rant. – JeffSahol Apr 23 '15 at 20:47
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    Quite right (though complaining about young people's abuse of language is literally as old as the Pyramids, and probably older). You don't make clear, however, that the police officer's tortured language is both legitimate and unrelated to the passive; I chased the man who had absconded with the car would be better than the first sentence, without bringing in legal definitions of stolen. – TimLymington Apr 23 '15 at 20:49
  • @David, Maybe a non-issue, but the "abscond" sentence in the Huffington Post is not written/spoken by a police officer but is a made-up example written by the author himself and presented as written by a hypothetical student of his. – JK2 Apr 23 '15 at 21:15
  • Ooops, yes. I wonder whether they were student police officers? in England, maybe they would practice haspirating heverything, or am I out of date habout hthat? I suppose that if police always proceed and never go anywhere, criminals should be allowed to abscond with rather than steal.... Anyway, the point remains that it was not a sentence used by Kudler for the purpose of illustrating a legitimate use of "absconded with", as the OP seemed to me to be saying. Au contraire. – David Pugh Apr 23 '15 at 21:52
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FWIW, this dictionary only shows this archaic meaning in the transitive branch:

abscond

transitive verb

archaic : conceal

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

Further, parametric Google searches over the New York Times site, really an arbiter elegantiae on matters of contemporary English writing, reveal:

site:www.nytimes.com "been absconded""

0 results

site:www.nytimes.com "were absconded"

1 result

Judging an Inn by Its Book Covers - NYTimes.com www.nytimes.com/1991/03/03/.../judging-an-inn-by-its-book-covers.html Mar 3, 1991 - ... diatribe against the former owner, claiming that the books were supposed to be part of the inn's assets and were absconded with illegally.

thus, unless one wants to be over-generous, we can safely call this a barbarism.

  • Considering the only NYTimes example has "with" it doesn't count toward the intransitive use of the verb itself. So the question is, does the lack of evidence prove anything? Also, why would NYTimes examples count as particularly more meaningful than CBS and/or Telegraph ones? – JK2 Apr 23 '15 at 21:31

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