Sunday, July 5, 2009

Travellin' Plans

The bumper sticker on the back of an Odyssey minivan said, “Where are we going? And why am I in this handbasket?”

After I finished laughing I wondered, not for the first time, “What the hell is a handbasket? And why do people travel in them?”

But I came up empty. None of my three dictionaries – English, Canadian, or American – held a definition. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and Wikipedia wove no tales of idiom origin.

What I do know is the meaning of "going to hell in a handbasket": the situation is deteriorating fast and the person in the tote has no control over it.

But since a handbasket is, as far as I can tell, simply a basket carried by hand, how fast can it be going? Why not jump out, is what I want to know. Clearly, there’s more going on in this phrase than Wiki and I understand.

So for now I’ve moved on, just like the handbasket that has evolved into a two-tonne metal tube with airbags, a six-cylinder engine, seating for seven, and a classical reference to the fallout from the Trojan war.

If Ulysses is at the wheel it might be a bumpy ride.

On the up side, it’ll be a long one.


  1. LOL! I’ve more often heard “ going to hell in a handcart.

    Apparently, “In Fairford church, Gloucestershire, the great West window (installed before 1517 AD) shows the Day of Judgment in stained glass, with the innocent going to heaven and the guilty going to hell. Among the latter is an old woman in a wheelbarrow, being pushed to her doom by a blue devil. So the idea of ‘going to hell in a handcart’ is a good 500 years old.”

  2. I'd prefer a hand basket or a garden trog any day over a mini van.