To hell in a handbasket

Last updated

"Going to hell in a handbasket", "going to hell in a handcart", "going to hell in a handbag", "go to hell in a bucket", [1] "sending something to hell in a handbasket" and "something being like hell in a handbasket" are variations on an allegorical locution of unclear origin, which describes a situation headed for disaster inescapably or precipitately.


New Orleans Mardi Gras day: wagon decorated as mini-float "Going to Hell in a Handbasket" with costume-wearing children NOMG07HellHandbasketKidsWagon.jpg
New Orleans Mardi Gras day: wagon decorated as mini-float "Going to Hell in a Handbasket" with costume-wearing children

Possible origins

The origin of the phrase has been much debated. Its usage may be dated to the baskets used to catch guillotined heads in the eighteenth century. Early visualizations of the phrase might possibly be associated with religious iconography such as the stained glass windows of Fairford Church in Gloucestershire and Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Haywain , circa 1515, which portrays a large cart of hay being drawn by "infernal beings that drag everyone to Hell".[ citation needed ]

19th century usages

In the 19th century, the phrase has been found associated with the American gold rush of the 1840s where men were lowered by hand in baskets down mining shafts to set explosives which could have deadly consequences. [2]

The phrase has been used in sermons since at least 1841, as can be seen in the publication, Short Patent Sermons: "[Those people] who would rather ride to hell in a hand-cart than walk to heaven supported by the staff of industry". [3] Also in 1841, a mention of the phrase can be found in The Star of Freedom: "..Sanctified hypocrites will tell you not, and that, do what you will, you are all to go to hell in a handbasket, thereby, in fact, making you mere passive creatures in this world passive to their will..." [4]

In 1862, the journal Weekly Pacquet of Advice from Rome: or, The History of Popery stated: "...that noise of a Popish Plot was nothing in the world but an intrigue of the Whigs to destroy the Kings best Friends, and the Devil fetch me to Hell in a Hand basket, if I might have my will, there should not be one Fanatical Dog left alive in the three Kingdoms." [5]

I. Winslow Ayer's 1865 polemic [6] alleges, "Judge Morris of the Circuit Court of Illinois at an August meeting of Order of the Sons of Liberty said: "Thousands of our best men were prisoners in Camp Douglas, and if once at liberty would 'send abolitionists to hell in a hand basket.'" [7]

Various versions of the phrase have appeared in the title of several published works and other media:

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sermon on the Mount</span> Collection of sayings and teachings of Jesus

The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of sayings spoken by Jesus of Nazareth found in the Gospel of Matthew that emphasizes his moral teachings. It is the first of five discourses in the Gospel and has been one of the most widely quoted sections of the Gospels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fire engine</span> Emergency vehicle intended to put out fires

A fire engine is a road vehicle that functions as a firefighting apparatus. The primary purposes of a fire engine include transporting firefighters and water to an incident as well as carrying equipment for firefighting operations in a fire drill. Some fire engines have specialized functions, such as wildfire suppression and aircraft rescue and firefighting, and may also carry equipment for technical rescue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cart</span> Simple two wheeled vehicle for animal drawn transport

A cart or dray is a vehicle designed for transport, using two wheels and normally pulled by one or a pair of draught animals. A handcart is pulled or pushed by one or more people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shopping cart</span> Cart supplied by a shop

A shopping cart, trolley, or buggy, also known by a variety of other names, is a wheeled cart supplied by a shop or store, especially supermarkets, for use by customers inside the premises for transport of merchandise as they move around the premises, while shopping, prior to heading to the checkout counter, cashiers or tills. Increasing the amount of goods a shopper can collect increases the quantities they are likely to purchase in a single trip, boosting store profitability.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Squanto</span> Native American contact of the Pilgrims

Tisquantum, more commonly known as Squanto, was a member of the Patuxet tribe best known for being an early liaison between the Native American population in Southern New England and the Mayflower Pilgrims who made their settlement at the site of Tisquantum's former summer village. The Patuxet tribe had lived on the western coast of Cape Cod Bay, but they were wiped out by an epidemic infection, likely brought by previous European explorers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Basket</span> Container woven of stiff fibres

A basket is a container that is traditionally constructed from stiff fibers and can be made from a range of materials, including wood splints, runners, and cane. While most baskets are made from plant materials, other materials such as horsehair, baleen, or metal wire can be used. Baskets are generally woven by hand. Some baskets are fitted with a lid, while others are left open on top.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Khasi language</span> Austroasiatic language of Meghalaya state, India

Khasi is an Austroasiatic language with just over a million speakers in north-east India, primarily the Khasi people in the state of Meghalaya. It has associate official status in some districts of this state. The closest relatives of Khasi are the other languages in the Khasic group of the Shillong Plateau; these include Pnar, Lyngngam and War.

<i>And Now for Something Completely Different</i> 1971 British film

And Now for Something Completely Different is a 1971 British sketch comedy film based on the television comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus featuring sketches from the show's first two series. The title was taken from a catchphrase used in the television show.

Emma Louise Batchelor Lee French, better known as Emma Lee French, was an English nurse born in Uckfield, East Sussex. She travelled to Utah and Arizona in the United States, where she became well known as a carer for the sick.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Buckner Stith Morris</span> American mayor (1800–1879)

Buckner Stith Morris served as mayor of Chicago, Illinois (1838–1839) for the Whig Party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Handbag</span> Handled bag used to carry personal items

A handbag, commonly known as a purse in North American English, is a handled medium-to-large bag used to carry personal items. It has also been called a pocketbook in parts of the U.S.

<i>Think Fast</i> (1989 game show) American TV series or program

Think Fast is an American children's game show which aired on Nickelodeon from May 1, 1989, to March 30, 1990, with reruns airing weekly until June 29, 1991.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Matthew 5</span> Chapter of the New Testament

Matthew 5 is the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It contains the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount, the other portions of which are contained in chapters 6 and 7. Portions are similar to the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6, but much of the material is found only in Matthew. It is one of the most discussed and analyzed chapters of the New Testament. Warren Kissinger reports that among early Christians, no chapter was more often cited by early scholars. The same is true in modern scholarship.

"Break a leg" is a typical English idiom used in the context of theatre or other performing arts to wish a performer "good luck". An ironic or non-literal saying of uncertain origin, "break a leg" is commonly said to actors and musicians before they go on stage to perform or before an audition. Though the term likely originates in German, the English expression is first attributed in the 1930s or possibly 1920s, originally documented without specifically theatrical associations. Among professional dancers, the traditional saying is not "break a leg", but the French word "merde".

To kick the bucket is an English idiom considered a euphemistic, informal, or slang term meaning "to die". Its origin remains unclear, though there have been several theories.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Days Go By (Keith Urban song)</span> 2004 single by Keith Urban

"Days Go By" is a song co-written and recorded by Australian country music singer Keith Urban. It was released on 28 June 2004, as the first single from his 2004 album Be Here. It became Urban's fifth number one single on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in late-2004, spending a four-week stay at that position. Urban wrote this song with Monty Powell.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is a proverb or aphorism. An alternative form is "Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works".

<i>Wake Up Jeff!</i> 1996 studio album/video by The Wiggles

Wake Up Jeff! is the sixth album by Australian band the Wiggles, released in 1996 by ABC Music distributed by EMI. It won the ARIA Award for Best Children's Album in 1996.

<i>Smoke in the Wind</i> 1975 film by Joseph Kane

Smoke in the Wind is a 1975 American Western film directed by Andy Brennan and Joseph Kane. It marked Walter Brennan's final film role as he died over six months before the film's release.


  1. Hendrickson, Robert (2000). The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms . Infobase Publishing. p. 77. ISBN   1438129920.
  2. Trevor Homer, Book of Origins, 2006.
  3. Elbridge Paige, Short Patent Sermons, 1841.
  4. The Star of Freedom (Leeds, England) 23 Jan 1841.
  5. Care, H. (167983). The Weekly Pacquet of Advice from Rome: or, The History of Popery. London: L. Curtis, 1862.
  6. Ayer, I. Winslow, The Great North-Western Conspiracy in All Its Startling Details. Chicago: Rounds and James, 1865. p.47 retrieved October 30, 2010
  7. Martin, Gary. "The meaning and origin of the expression: Going to hell in a handbasket". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved October 30, 2010. The first example of 'hell in a hand basket' that I have found in print comes in I. Winslow Ayer's account of events of the American Civil War The Great North-Western Conspiracy, 1865. A very similar but slightly fuller report of Morris's comments was printed in the House Documents of the U.S. Congress, in 1867
  8. Event of the week: To Hell in a Handbag by Peter Crawley, The Irish Times, August 24, 2019