Columns » Words

South in a handbasket

by

comment

Which way?

A devoted Times reader e-mails a question from Colombia:

"Where did the expression 'going south' come from? There's a big debate here." Yes, I can imagine that people in South America don't want to think "going south" has a negative connotation.

But, I've been under the impression that "going south" means roughly "going to hell," that is, "deteriorating, falling apart": Perry's presidential campaign is going south. We usually think of hell as being downward from here, and downward is south on a map.

The on-line Free Dictionary confirms that one meaning of "go south" is "to lose value or quality." In a similar vein, the expression sometimes means "to stop working," the dictionary says, as in "I need more time for this project. My computer has gone south."

FD says that go south can also mean "to make an escape; to disappear": Cheyne went south as soon as he was released from prison; "to fall, to go down": The market headed south today, and "to quit, to drop out": Fred got discouraged and went south.

So it seems the expression is mostly negative. Hellish, if you will, but the dictionary doesn't say for certain that hell is where it came from. Colombian debate will continue.

(For what it's worth, I remember Gene Autry singing "South of the border, down Mexico way ... " and that was pretty positive. Ay, ay, ay, ay.)

Dominate usage:

"It's a fun show. It educates people about a culture not dominate in Arkansas."

Dr. Douglas Young of Conway questions the use of dominate, and is correct in doing so. Dominate is a verb, as is predominate, which means about the same thing. The adjectives that mean "major, ruling" are dominant and predominant. Unfortunately, we often see the verbs where the adjectives should be, and sometimes where an adverb should be. It's a predominantly black college, not a predominately black college.

Peeking too soon:

Jimmy Jeffress saw the headline, "Fort Smith Tea Party Forum Offers Peak at 2012 election." It piques one's interest, though not in the way a headline should.

Add a comment

Clicky