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As a non-native speaker I've been using this phrase without thinking about how neutral it is actually. In Russian, for instance, we have "незваный гость хуже татарина" (an uninvited guest is worser than a Tatar) and someone who'll say something like this in Tatarstan or Bashkortostan can offense people.

So, should I avoid phrase with "went south" in specific regions of USA?

marked as duplicate by Mitch, K J, Mari-Lou A, Chappo, JJJ Jul 17 at 22:50

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    It never occurred to me to be offended as someone who lives in the South. What do you know about the origins of the phrase that would make it offensive? – ColleenV Jul 10 at 17:37
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    See Origin of the idiom “go south”. To "go south" is not a reference to the southern U.S. or any other geographic region. – choster Jul 10 at 17:38
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    I'm from the South. I have never heard of anyone bothered by the expression. – TaliesinMerlin Jul 10 at 17:40
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    Somewhat related EL&U question: Is "Gone to Texas" a widespread idiom? Just to echo TaliesinMerlin's response, I've never heard of Southerners taking umbrage at "went south" (or even "went South"); I'm from the edge of the Old South (Texas), and my forebears may or may not have moved there to escape their debts. – Sven Yargs Jul 10 at 20:17
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    I live in the South, and natives here use this expression often. – barbecue Jul 11 at 17:56

Apparently it is not an offensive expression:

go south (v.):

"vanish, abscond," 1920s, American English, probably from mid-19c. notion of disappearing south to Mexico or Texas to escape pursuit or responsibility, reinforced by Native American belief (attested in colonial writing mid-18c.) that the soul journeys south after death. (Etymonline)

Usage note:

This idiom is constructed with a variety of terms, all consisting of a verb indicating movement and a direction indicating the movement is to the south (southerly, southward, etc.) The exact construction may be modified to fit the circumstances. (Wiktionary)

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    The origin of a phrase does not determine whether or not people find it offensive. Some people apparently find "call a spade a spade" offensive, despite the fact that it predates the use of spade to refer to a black person. "Is It Racist To 'Call A Spade A Spade'?". I've seen the same thing with "pot calling the kettle black." The point is, even something that's not intentionally offensive can be offensive. – Juhasz Jul 10 at 17:50
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    @Juhasz - I posted the two sources because both its origin and its usage don’t mention any problem with using the expression. All other sources I looked don’t mention any usage problem as far as offensiveness is concerned. – user067531 Jul 10 at 17:51
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    You might want to include that information (that none of the sources described it as offensive) in your answer. To me, the wording of this answer seems to suggest that the phrase is not offensive because of the definition and etymology. But I may be alone in feeling this way. – Juhasz Jul 10 at 18:04
  • The definition of a word rarely means anything in terms of whether people take it to be offensive or not. As these definitions do not specifically state if the phrase is negative or positive, they do nothing to address the actual question. Also, the origin of a word is mostly irrelevant to its modern social context. – Jason Bassford Jul 11 at 20:32
  • @JasonBassford - dictionaries including etymological ones, generally specify if a term or an expression is potentially offensive. If they don’t..... – user067531 Jul 11 at 20:33

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