True Basket Case Definition

Alex Williams
5 Min Read

1. Basket Case Definition

Basket case definition is not directly recognizable from the phrase. The term refers to any person who is incapacitated because of distressing or negative emotions usually caused by overwork. Such a person is of less or no productive use. They become difficult to handle because of their mental state. In simple terms, a person who is physically or mentally frozen is considered to be a basket case.

2. Origin

So, where does the term basket case come from? The word in its current meaning is based on a symbolic usage. The first World War was believed to be the place of origin of this term. During the war, there were numerous casualties while many soldiers had one or more of their limbs amputated. Bulletins issued in several newspapers in March 1919 and Syracuse Herald described the term as a limbless soldier without arms and legs being carried away in a basket. Although this term originated after the war, there was no proof of any soldier found in that condition. Hence, this is where does the term basket case comes from. (See Psychology of Ignoring Someone)

3. Usage Deemed Offensive

The original usage of the term which referred to a limbless person was considered offensive. Hence, the term basket case was started to use in different contexts. For instance, from early 1948, the term is used in the context of a nation or organization that is in high debt or is facing severe economic and financial difficulties. This would mean that they are incapable of being active and profitable. It is also used to refer to an emotionally disturbed person. The earliest mention of this term was in Polly Alder’s autobiography in 1953.

It may be considered an insult to many people because of the basket case definition. The meaning originated in World War I and, the new generated meaning, both of them are equally offensive.  If we say to someone that he is incapable to do anything because his limbs are worthless, it would be demeaning. Similarly, calling a mentally sound person insane would be insulting. Hence, it is not healthy to use phrases like this to make fun of another person’s situation.

4. Basket Case Synonyms & Antonyms

Although the meaning of the term has changed gradually from when it was first originated, the meaning now has a lot of synonyms. There are different phrases that are used instead. Basket case synonyms are a bundle of nerves, spastic, nutcase, spaz, maniac, loony, nervous wrecker, etc. (See What are the Synonyms of Looking Forward To?)

Just as there are words to be used in place of the term basket case, there are certain words that are the opposite of it. Powerful, secure, able, strong, fit, skilled, potent, capable, resourceful, independent, and enterprising are a few antonyms of the term Basket case.

5. Usage in Media

Since basket case definition has changed with time, the new meaning became the basis of songs and movies.

  • An American horror movie written and directed by Frank Henenlotter released in 1982 was named Basket case. The movie had two sequels – Basket Case 2 (1990) and Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991).
  • The band Green Day also released a song named Basket Case in 1994. The song was written by Billie Joe Armstrong, who had stated that the song was about his struggle with anxiety. (See The Body Language of Anxiety)

We now know where does the term basket case comes from and how basket case definition has changed over time. Even though meaning and usage have evolved, we should try to be more considerate before calling someone a basket case. We never know what kind of mental issue they are struggling with.

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