Posted by Jim Myers on February 09, 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.