basket case n.
1. Slang. One that is in a completely hopeless or useless condition: “He immediately becomes a psychological basket case, embittered to the point of craziness” (New York). “After World War I, when the Hapsburg empire was split up, little Austria seemed a basket case” (Paul A. Samuelson).
2. Offensive Slang. A person, especially a soldier, who has had all four limbs amputated.
Our Living Language In popular usage basket case refers to someone in a hopeless mental condition, but in origin it had a physical meaning. In the grim slang of the British army during World War I, it referred to a quadruple amputee. This is one of several expressions that first became popular in World War I, or that entered American army slang from British English at that time. Some of these words reflect technical inventions and innovations of the time, such as parachute, blimp, tank, and bomber, and still have clear military associations. Others have lost most or all of their military connotations, such as ace, chow, slacker, and dud.

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Universalium. 2010.

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