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.


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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.


    Sorry, no example sentences found.


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  • Oh my god.

    February 25, 2008

  • Erm, yes, and it's not particularly kind. I'll let describe it succinctly, and you can infer the rest:

    In the grim slang of the British army during World War I, it referred to a quadruple amputee. This is one of several expressions that first became popular in World War I, or that entered American army slang from British English at that time.

    February 25, 2008

  • Does anybody know the origin of this expression?

    February 25, 2008