Saturday, December 17, 2011

Going to hell in a hand basket

Going to hell in a hand basket . . . in interesting phrase that I’ve used offhand with nary a thought most of my life.  Unless you’ve lived under a rock your entire life, I’m sure you’ve heard the expression . . . but just in case you’ve not ventured from beyond the boulder, going to hell in a hand basket means to go from an extremely bad situation and to a worse one.

We all know what hell is . . . so examine the handbasket; a small, lightweight means of conveyance.  Picture Dorothy of Wizard of Oz fame traipsing along with her faithful companion Toto in a little basket.  There is nothing sinister about it.  Is there?  Now that I think about it, everyone is trying to stuff that poor little doggie in a basket . . . from Dorothy to Miss Gulch to those creepy flying monkeys to the Wicked Witch of the West.  Hmmm.

'Going to heaven in a wheelbarrow' is a much older phrase from the 15th century which was a euphemistic way of saying 'going to hell'. It evokes imagery of sinners being carted off to hell in a barrow . . . . an ancient concept.

This could easily be switched around to give us the expression ‘going to hell in a handcart’ and then, thusly, ‘a hand basket’. 

Interestingly, around the same time that these idioms came into common usage, carriages that prostitutes used for transport were regarded as hell-carts . . . sending them and their patrons off to purgatory.

I could be wrong but ‘going hell in a hand basket’ brings to mind the image of a guillotine and a head thudding into the basket below after the fall of the blade. 

That, to me, is certainly going to hell in a handbasket most expeditiously.

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