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basket case

noun, Slang.
1.
Offensive. a person who has had all four limbs amputated.
2.
a person who is helpless or incapable of functioning normally, especially due to overwhelming stress, anxiety, or the like.
3.
anything that is impaired or incapable of functioning:
Right after the war the conquered nation was considered an economic basket case.
Origin
1915-1920
1915-20
Usage note
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.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for basket-case

basket case

noun (slang)
1.
a person who is suffering from extreme nervous strain; nervous wreck
2.
(mainly US & Canadian, taboo) a person who has had both arms and both legs amputated
3.
  1. someone or something that is incapable of functioning normally
  2. (as modifier): a basket-case economy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for basket-case

basket case

n.

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for basket-case

basket case

noun phrase
  1. A helpless, hopeless, distraught person: If I worried after a decision I'd be a basket case
  2. 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.
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Idioms and Phrases with basket-case

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 ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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12
13
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