What does things all went south mean in the following paragraph?

The app has been available in the Google Play store since November 12, apparently with Google's blessing, and Cyanogen says "hundreds of thousands" of users have installed it already. But things all went south on Wednesday, when the Cyanogen team apparently received an email from the Chocolate Factory informing them that the CyanogenMod Installer violated Google Play's terms and conditions.

-- www.theregister.co.uk

I'm really confused by what this idiom means. Kindly help me out.


4 Answers 4


The human mind has a natural tendency to make metaphors to describe abstract concepts. In English, one such metaphor is

"up" = good, in working order
"down" = bad, broken


  • Is the mail server up?
    The server went down yesterday when the hard disk crashed.

  • The dictatorship rose to power in 1969.
    The regime fell as a result of the coup d'état in 1974.

  • In the heyday of the motor industry, things were looking up.
    However, since the collapse of the motor industry, Detroit has gone downhill.

  • He hit rock bottom when an alcoholic binge landed him in the emergency room.
    He has since rebounded.

  • Management approved proposal A, but gave a thumbs down to proposal B.

Combine that with the arbitrary convention to orient maps with north pointing up and south pointing down, and you get an idiomatic expression "going south", meaning "turning bad".

Note that these metaphors are not always generalizable. For example, going uphill is not the opposite of going downhill. ("Uphill" usually refers to some kind of struggle.) Similarly, "going north" is not a commonly accepted expression. However, it is possible to say

Profits are expected to be north of $3 million this year.

… meaning "above 3 million dollars".


This (plus a few other English idioms) are used to express that things went bad. Other ways one could phrase this include:

things went south
things went downhill
things took a turn for the worse
things turned sour

These expressions indicate that things were going well (or, at least, they weren't going too badly) when conditions suddenly worsened. They could be used when talking about the negative trends of, say, a company, a project, a business transaction, a sports match, or a politician's election campaign. For example:

He had a comfortable lead in the polls until things went sour.
The project looked like it would be completed on time until things took a turn for the worse.

A couple related expressions are:

things hit rock bottom
the bottom fell out

but these are perhaps slightly different, in that they seem to imply that things were already getting bad before they got even worse:

The Atoms were struggling to climb above .500 when the bottom fell out.
Things hit rock bottom when the CFO was indicted on embezzlement charges.


It means problems began stacking up uncontrollably. Until certain point the struggle against the problem bore semblance of control and there was a chance of averting it - then something happened, and things went south - the situation got entirely out of control.

The flood water was creeping up, but we were reinforcing the embankments with sacks of sand, carrying them to the crests of the embankments on our backs. Then one of drivers of trucks delivering the sacks got the brilliant idea to drive the truck to the crest of the embankment. The embankments soaked with water simply got squished under the weight of the truck. A trickle of water soon turned into a stream, and then into a full-size breach, and things quickly went south - we ran for our lives leaving equipment behind. After the first breach, delivery routes got cut off, new breaches occurred, and soon the nearby power plant got under water too, leaving the electric-powered floodgates without power, and the city at mercy of the flood.

In the above - we get from flood prevention to full-scale disaster.

  • The quoted passage sounds pretty much the flood happened in Thailand a couple of years ago. Am I right about this? Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 14:14
  • @DamkerngT.: No, that was fully improvised for this question (and a rather common scenario everywhere in the world.)
    – SF.
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 14:52

The expression is just indicating that "It all went wrong/bad (south)." Since some people associate south with down, they use it to take the place of 'down' or 'bad'. So the expression "It all went south from there." just means that everything went wrong from a certain point.

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