basket case

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See also: basketcase


Alternative forms[edit]


The term originated in America after the First World War, indicating a soldier missing both his arms and legs who needed to be literally carried around in a litter or “basket”, though there are no records of any soldiers being carried in baskets. Today it indicates a state of helplessness similar to the metaphoric removal of the appendages, most frequently in the context of mental health or aptitude.[1]


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basket case (plural basket cases)

  1. (slang, potentially offensive) One made powerless or ineffective, as by nerves, panic, stress or exhaustion.
    Synonym: emotional cripple
    She was a complete basket case the morning of her wedding.
    • 1985, John Hughes, The Breakfast Club, spoken by Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall):
      [] You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athelete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed…
    • 2019 July 9, Toni Bentley, “What Do the Sex Lives of ‘Three Women’ Tell Us About Female Desire?”, in New York Times[1]:
      Taddeo’s sad, searing, sometimes unbearably painful tales of bad decisions, agonies and humiliations at the shrine of “love” show us that, in spite of 10 to 15 minutes here and there of truly hot sex, a woman “in love” is frequently a basket case.
  2. An institution or country in a bad condition or difficult situation (economically, financially or otherwise).
    This country is a financial basket case, a country so broke that it should be a perfect warning to lenders.
    Some countries are breadbaskets, others basket cases.
    • 2009, Selig S. Harrison, Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement, Princeton University Press (→ISBN), page 48:
      The stereotypical image of North Korea as a hopeless economic basket case ignores the fact that there are extensive natural resources there.
    • 2018 December 21, Stuart Jeffries, “Germany’s Hidden Crisis by Oliver Nachtwey review – social decline in the heart of Europe”, in The Guardian[2]:
      The cover of Oliver Nachtwey’s book depicts a VW Beetle, emblem of Teutonic manufacturing prowess since Hitler’s day, driving off a cliff. [] The Germany described by this Frankfurt School professor is a basket case – post-growth, post-democratic, with the first fascists in the Bundestag since the Third Reich.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2022), “basket case”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.