Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Going to Hell in a Handbasket

Do you ever wonder where sayings come from?  Things like 'going to hell in a handbasket' or 'kick the bucket'?  Why have these catch phrases become such a popular part of our language and when you say them, everyone knows what you are talking about but do we really know what they mean?

I am going to spend several posts highlighting catch phrases and common sayings.  I have often thought of compiling many (several hundred or so) and making a book out of it, just because I think it's interesting and I'm sure others do as well.

Today I am going to tackle 'going to hell in and handbasket.'

When you picture a handbasket, what comes to mind? I think of a cute little basket, maybe filled with fruit or something cuddly, like puppies or kittens.  Something like this:
So when did that image become associated with going to hell?  Let me do a full disclosure here and now.  Since I don't know all the answers, I have consulted the Internet and most of my findings were found on The Phrase Finder

Definition
To be 'going to hell in a handbasket' is to be rapidly deteriorating - on course for disaster.

Origin
During my research I found it isn't cut and dry why a cute little handbasket was chosen as the means to take people to hell.  One theory states decapitated heads were caught in baskets and the owner of the head was thought to be going straight to hell.  Others believe a handbasket was used to signify something done easily and quickly.    

Phrases such as 'going to hell in a wheelbarrow' and 'going to hell in a basket' were used early on but never gained the notoriety as 'going to hell in a handbasket'.  Many people seem to think it's because of the 'H' which added a little catchiness.  However, 'going to hell in a handcart' was also used, it also has the 'H' but never caught on.

The first example of 'hell in a handbasket' in print was in 1865.  It was used in Winslow Ayer's account of the American Civil War. I can understand the word 'hell' being used to describe war, but the use of the word 'handbasket' still baffles me.

I guess we will never know why a handbasket was chosen as the preferred vehicle to fire and brimstone but when I get to heaven, I'll make sure and ask the All Knowing Man Upstairs.

Have a great day!

R. K. Avery