basket case

noun Slang.
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.


In the sense of “an amputee,” this term is perceived as insulting. It is military slang dating from World War I. Basket cases were soldiers who had lost all of their limbs and could not be safely carried on stretchers, though these types of casualties were probably very rare. At that time, a basket case was a wicker basket used to carry linens or other dry goods. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
basket case
1.  a person who is suffering from extreme nervous strain; nervous wreck
2.  taboo chiefly (US), (Canadian) a person who has had both arms and both legs amputated
3.  a.  someone or something that is incapable of functioning normally
 b.  (as modifier): a basket-case economy

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

basket case
1919, Amer.Eng., originally a reference to 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 + case. 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 1967.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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