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Lost vs misplaced
Help solve a domestic squabble between two of my friends involving potential meanings of the word "lost"
Kevin Lynch
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A friend of mine left his ID at a restaurant. He searched for it for days, saying he had “misplaced” it before he said “I guess it is lost now” meaning he could not  retrieve  it. He then remembered the last place he had it was the restaurant, called them, and discovered it was there.


He commented, “it was never lost; it was at the restaurant.”


This started a big argument between he and another friend where the doubter claims the fact that you subsequently found it cannot change the fact that it was lost. I argued on behalf of the guy who misplaced the ID that that isn’t necessarily true–if my friend’s use of lost requires the inability of  retrieval  then the discovery that it could be found means that it wasn’t lost in the first place, that he was instead mistaken in thinking it was gone.


While that would not be the default interpretation, I think it is valid and side with him on the argument. Wondering what you guys think about it.

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I think there might be a considerable of word gamesmanship here. It reminds me of Daniel Boone’s quote:
I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.


Fort Worth, TX
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This is a question that can not be answered simply with a definition of lost or misplaced because it is a matter of perspective. Daniel Boone did not consider himself lost because he knew the area he was in and had every reason to believe that something familiar would come into view to lead him properly. I have felt the same way in my home town, Fort Worth, when I was in an unknown neighborhood and kept running into dead end streets.

If you left your wallet in your pants when you went to bed but thought you put it on your desk, is it lost when you wake up and can’t find it? Most would say it was misplaced because a very brief search will find it and you know beyond doubt that it is in your house. But if you leave it at a restaurant is it lost when you discover it missing? If you discover it missing immediately after driving straight home from the restaurant you would probably say it is misplaced because you are certain it is at the restaurant. But if a day goes by and you have no idea where you left it, is it lost? Most would say it is, even though the possibility of it being found is still a hope. With a different perspective some might say it is only misplaced because it must still be in this city.

I have left out the possibility of it being stolen which puts a whole different spin on the question.

To answer the original question, it may be word gamesmanship like Emmet said but it may just be different peoples perspective on the situation which would make everyone right. The man with the ID had his perspective changed, so he now can see it was not lost after all, only misplaced. But under his former perspective it was lost. So it can be argued both ways.

New River, AZ, USA
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I don’t see this as word gamesmanship. And the quote by Daniel Boone is amusing, but not really relevant. What it comes down to imho is that nowhere in the definition of “lost” (as referring to a physical possession) is there a requirement that the loss be permanent. So an ID can indeed be lost (temporarily) even if it is later found.

Now there are things that can be “lost” and never recovered: gambled money, youth, a game or battle, etc.

So I’d disagree with the comment in the original question (It was never lost; it was at the restaurant.) and maintain that it was lost (at least temporarily).

The word “misplaced” is a bit trickier. The online dictionary I use defines “misplaced” as a temporary state of affairs. Whether an ID can transition from a state of being “misplaced” to a state of being “lost” is what’s fuzzy to me … how much time is required before its status is updated from “misplaced” to “lost,” or is it just a matter of when you decide to give up and stop looking for it?

Reminds me of the time I misplaced my wallet. I absolutely positively knew it was somewhere in the house, because I had a vivid image of carrying it in from the car with several other items. For several hours I looked everywhere I could think of, but couldn’t find it. The word “lost” never entered my mind, since I knew it would turn up eventually. I later found it on my bookshelf where I had set it (temporarily) just to make it easier to unload the other items I was carrying, and since that was not the usual place I leave my wallet, it never occurred to me to look for it there. I only found it later because I was looking for a book. I suppose one could argue that it was “lost” until I found it, as I assert in the first paragraph, but that term never entered my mind during the search.

So maybe it is a matter of the certainty that it will be found, as Dick suggests.

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One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of lose is to miss from one’s possession or from a customary or supposed place. I don’t see any implication of permanence in it. I lost my balance doesn’t require that I never get it back again. On the other hand, The ship foundered, and all were lost leaves little doubt about the permanence question. I think it’s a word with multiple uses and meanings, and more than one way to be right about it. As Dick suggested, perspective.