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.
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.
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]
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D. Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers. Cite This Source
Idioms and Phrases with basket-case
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