from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. Slang One that is in a completely hopeless or useless condition: "He immediately becomes a psychological basket case, embittered to the point of craziness” ( New York). "After World War I, when the Hapsburg empire was split up, little Austria seemed a basket case” ( Paul A. Samuelson).
- n. Offensive Slang A person, especially a soldier, who has had all four limbs amputated.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. One made powerless or ineffective, as by nerves, panic or stress.
- n. A country in a difficult economic or financial situation.
The term originated from WWI British English, indicating a soldier missing both his arms and legs, who needed to be literally carried around in a litter or "basket." Today it indicates a state of helplessness similar to the metaphoric removal of the appendages. (Wiktionary)