Thursday, November 06, 2008

Going to hell in a handbasket

Recent events have seen that phrase bandied about quite a lot, and it got me wondering about its origins.

No one disagrees on its description of a situation easily and speedily bound for disaster.

But, where did it come from?

The best explanation I've found is that it goes back to the French Revolution, when the heads of guillotine vicitims fell into lined baskets for quick disposal.

Certainly, unlucky souls were beheaded for centuries prior to 1789.

Can any of ye socks find a reference prior to that date?

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2 Comments:

Blogger M--- said...

From the website http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/hell-in-a-handbasket.html :
There are one or two theories as to why 'handbasket' was chosen as the preferred vehicle to be conveyed to hell. Handbaskets are, of course, baskets that are carried by hand. Items put in a handbasket are moved without resistance and it could be that the imagery of someone being taken off directly and without choice was in the mind of whoever coined the phrase. Another theory is that it derives from the use of the guillotine and the imagery of decipitated heads being caught in baskets, the casualty presumably going straight to hell, without passing Go. The first use of an alliterative 'in a handbasket' phrase does in fact relate to head rather than hell. In Samuel Sewall's Diary, 1714, we find:

"A committee brought in something about Piscataqua. Govr said he would give his head in a Handbasket as soon as he would pass it."

That's the best I could find...

4:55 PM  
Blogger Orange and Blue said...

Thanks for that! After my initial post, I came across another phrase. "Going to heaven in a handcart." A little less alliterative, but a far better destination! I think I'm going to start inserting it into casual conversation and see what kind of reaction I get. I'm such a rebel!

9:42 AM  

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