Dec 9, 2009

"What Is...?" Wednesday

What is the  origin of the phrase 
 "Going to hell in a handbasket"  

By definition, this phrase simply means to be deteriorating or on a course for disaster.

There are a couple of popular theories as to why a "handbasket" was chosen as the preferred mode of transportation to be carried to hell in... Handbaskets are simply baskets that are portable and easily carried by hand and when an item is put in a handbasket it is moved or taken away with little or no resistance. It is also  speculated that the imagery of someone being taken off directly and without choice, was in the mind of whoever coined the phrase. 

Another popular theory is that it derives from the use of the French guillotine and the imagery of decipitated heads being caught in baskets, the victim presumably going straight to hell without passing go. The first use of this particular phrase "In a handbasket" does in fact relate to head rather than hell.

The very idea of sinners being literally taken to hell in carts is surely very old. The medieval stained glass windows of Fairford Church in Gloucestershire contain an image of a woman being taken off to purgatory in a wheelbarrow being pushed by a blue devil. The phrase itself isn't that old though and "going to hell in a handbasket" and its alternative form "going to hell in a handcart" originated in America around the start of the 20th century. The "handbasket" version is now the more common here, although neither version is widely used in other English-speaking countries.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

There was a cute LOLcat caption the other day that said "Handbasket to Hell: Basement Cat's preferred mode of transportation."

Rue said...

Lol - my family says this ALL the time! We always follow it by by saying "I don't know why a handbasket though.." Now I know!

mxtodis123 said...

Hi, Lizzie. I love reading your blog so with that in mind, I nominated you to play a game of Christmas tag. Details are at Moontides.