Downfall vs. downside

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downfall is (1) a cause of sudden ruin, (2) a sudden ruin, or (3) a shower of rain or snow, especially a heavy one. A downside is (1) a disadvantageous aspect, (2) a downward tendency, or (3) the lower side of something. In web and news writing, downfall appears in place of downside surprisingly often. The reasons for the confusion are obvious—both words start with down and tend to denote negative things—but in their conventional senses the words have no common ground.


For example, these writers obviously mean downside, not downfall:

Despite all my fuss over the downfalls of technology in my last article, it was none other than a Twitter post that inspired this week’s column. [The Samford Crimson (article now offline)]

Sullivan said the biggest downfall of having domestic rats as pets is that they generally only live two to three years. [The Record]

Both options have their perks, and yes, both options have their downfalls. [Orlando Sentinel]

And these are positive examples:

We live in a sad world where people often feed off of the misery and downfall of others. [Internet Evolution]

The only downside to the current situation is financing cost. [Financial Times]

Rubio’s victory over Gov. Charlie Crist capped one of the most dramatic political downfalls in the country. [Miami Herald (article now offline)]

Even as educators talked about all of the downsides of early admissions, applicants from good high schools continued to apply early in greater and greater numbers. [USA Today]

The square is surrounded on all sides by evidence of Gadhafi’s downfall. [NPR]

Call me negative for seeing the downside to Rondo’s incredible dominance, but being outscored in the first quarter is unacceptable. [Yahoo! Sports]