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Basket case

Offensive. a person who has had all four limbs amputated.
a person who is helpless or incapable of functioning normally, especially due to overwhelming stress, anxiety, or the like.
anything that is impaired or incapable of functioning:
Right after the war the conquered nation was considered an economic basket case.
Contemporary Examples

If not for the writing and singing of songs, she might very well be a basket case.
Married To Mr Burns: Life, Love, And Jealousy In The Music Of Judith Owen Lloyd Grove May 6, 2014

Historical Examples

Poor Otto ended up a basket case, just in time to have the damned stuff start all over again at the stumps of his arms and legs.
Highways in Hiding George Oliver Smith

noun (slang)
a person who is suffering from extreme nervous strain; nervous wreck
(mainly US & Canadian, taboo) a person who has had both arms and both legs amputated

someone or something that is incapable of functioning normally
(as modifier): a basket-case economy


1919, American English, originally a reference to rumors of quadriplegics as a result of catastrophic wounds suffered in World War I (the military vehemently denied there were any such in its hospitals), from basket (n.) + case (n.2). Probably literal, i.e., stuck in a basket, but basket had colloquial connotations of poverty (begging) and helplessness long before this. Figurative sense of “person emotionally unable to cope” is from 1921.

noun phrase

A helpless, hopeless, distraught person: If I worried after a decision I’d be a basket case
Anything ruined and hopeless: Those are only the best-known corporate basket cases/ the reconstitution of the East Wing as an autonomous nation and international basket case

[1960s+; fr a 1919 term describing a person, usu a wounded soldier, without either arms or legs, who needed to be carried in a basket; use revived in 1939 by Dalton Trumbo’s novel Johnny Got His Gun]
A person or thing too impaired to function. For example, The stress of moving twice in one year left her a basket case, or The republics of the former Soviet Union are economic basket cases. Originating in World War I for a soldier who had lost all four limbs in combat and consequently had to be carried in a litter (“basket”), this term was then transferred to an emotionally or mentally unstable person and later to anything that failed to function. [ ; second half of 1900s ]


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