phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Hell in a handbasket

Posted by Bob on February 10, 2005

In Reply to: Re: Hell in a handbasket posted by R. Berg on February 10, 2005

: : : Firt time here so I used this phrase as a test.

: : : According to John Ciardi (as best I can remember), this phrase was used by British(?) miners. A handbasket or handcart was the vehicle that ran on a trolly down into the mines. It carried coal to the surface, but also carried the miners, not an enviable job, down into the mine, a notoriously dangerous place that was sometimes refered to as "hell". Hence, ...

: : : This seemed like a pretty simple derivation, so I was surprised to see so many wrong answers. I'll try another.

: : Wrong answers?

: You aren't assuming, are you, that the simplest explanation of a phrase origin is always historically accurate?

I can't find any corroboration to equate a mining handcart with "handbasket." Dictionaries seem to believe, as most of us would assume, that a handbasket was a woven container you might carry in your hand. Perhaps at times the late Mr. Ciardi was more the poet than the scholar.