Basket case

中国日报网 2013-09-24 13:07



Basket caseReader question:

Please explain “basket case”, as in “Thatcherism saved Britain from becoming a basket-case”.

My comments:

In other words, Thatcherism prevented the teetering British economy from total collapse.

Or at least from becoming completely helpless.

Thatcherism is 1980’s stuff. Today’s young have no idea what it is. It is named after Margaret Thatcher, the erstwhile British Prime Minister known as the Iron Lady for her stern looks and steely resolve. And Thatcherism is, in a nutshell, wanton capitalism.

Or, to use a jargon and make it sound a bit more nicely, laissez faire.

Laissez faire? That’s French for letting do. It’s synonymous with free enterprise, i.e. let businesses flourish (or perish) without government interference.

Now, back to basket case, the phrase of our concern for today.

Basket cases refer originally to people – specifically soldiers who have both their arms and amputated due to battle injuries. They’re so named because, without arms and legs, these soldiers have to be carried all the time by others.

A cruel coinage this is, of course. I’m saddened as I type out these words. Young people risk their lives to go to war and fight for their country and all, but after they’re injured like that, they’re callously called basket cases.

This alone should be enough for mothers and fathers to stop their sons and daughters from joining the army and fighting in wars, if you analyze it. If you analyze it, all wars are terrible – except those fought in self defense.

Well, that’s overanalyzing it, perhaps. Anyways, basket cases used to refer to soldiers in America after World War One. This, from

In its original meaning this term comes from the US military immediately following WWI. Strangely, it was never used to describe an actual person but only in denial of any such servicemen existing. This bulletin was issued by the U.S. Command on Public Information in March 1919, on behalf of Major General M. W. Ireland, the U.S. Surgeon General:

“The Surgeon General of the Army ... denies ... that there is any foundation for the stories that have been circulated ... of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.”

This bulletin was reported on in many U.S. newspapers at the time. Many of them also defined what was meant by ‘basket case’; for example, this from the New York paper The Syracuse Herald, March 1919:

“By ‘basket case’ is meant a soldier who has lost both arms and legs and therefore must be carried in a basket.

At any rate a basket case is a person who’s become completely helpless. Do not use it, though, as it sounds so offensive. Indeed, because of this, the term is now more often used on organizations rather than on persons.

As it is in our case, Thatcherism saving Great Britain from becoming a great basket case.

In other words, hopelessly helpless.

Alright, here are more media examples of this phrase:

1. President Obama calls for “social justice.” He agrees with the motley “occupiers” that the One Percent gets almost everything. Reagan and the Bush tax cuts burdened us with a tinderbox of inequality, he lectures us. The rich should pay their fair share. “Enough is enough.” We must create a “just” society that guarantees the poor a dignified life.

In a word, we must become like Europe, for whom Obama expresses open admiration.

Obama apparently does not know that the European countries that have become “fairer” over the past two decades are now basket cases of debt, social unrest, and an unaffordable welfare state. Those European countries that have had the discipline to become “less fair,” are, in the words of a sympathetic liberal columnist (The GOP scrambles for a bogeyman) “doing well economically, both in absolute terms and in contrast to us.”

We should be like Germany or Sweden but not like Greece, I guess. But Germany and Sweden are recovering from too much of the social justice that Obama wishes to impose on us, while Greece is falling apart in a sea of equality and justice.

- Want More “Fairness?” Look to Europe’s Basket Cases,, February 26, 2012.

2. Can Facebook turn you into a narcissist? Are smartphones creating a nation of panicky control freaks? Do computer games make us develop the attention spans of goldfish? Each of these worrying concerns has been raised by new research which warns how cyberspace may be turning us increasingly into a nation of emotional basket cases.

We have become wedded to gadgets such as smartphones and tablet computers, as we text, tweet, email, update social networks or click through the latest celebrity gossip.

At the same time, there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of people being diagnosed with so-called ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as ADHD, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Now, a new book by Dr Larry Rosen, American professor of psychology, suggests that the two are strongly linked — that our obsession with gadgets is pushing us over the edge, into an epidemic of psychological disorders.

Dr Rosen is not alone in his concern about the impact of technology on our mental health. Last month, the German government tried to limit the growing levels of emotional stress caused to staff by their employers badgering them electronically through emails and texts.

Ursula von der Leyen, the German labour minister, has decreed that employers should not contact staff outside of office hours. She explained: ‘There must be protection for the psychological health of workers. That means a clear division between free time and working hours.’

Already, the German carmaker Volkswagen has ruled that work emails should only be forwarded to employees for 30 minutes after the end of the day.

In Britain, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy warned that people are imperilling their health by using smartphones, tablets and laptops after they leave the office. Its survey says two-thirds of UK workers have become ‘screen slaves’, tapping away for more than two hours a day while commuting or when they get home.

Its chairwoman, Dr Helena Johnson, said the findings were of ‘huge concern’ and put people at risk of stress-related illnesses.

- How gadgets and the internet are turning us into a nation of emotional basket cases,, July 18, 2012.

3. Chancellor George Osborne has been warned by a Tory MP that he must “man up” and recognise the scale of the deficit challenge facing Britain.

Less than three weeks before the Budget, Conservatives told a meeting of the right-wing Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) that borrowing is at worrying levels.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the MP for Spelthorne in Surrey who chairs the Tory backbench “Free Enterprise Group”, struck a particularly pessimistic tone.

Arguing that the international aid budget should not be exempt from cuts, he told the audience: “We are still borrowing £120bn. We are not in a fit state to be spending money in this way.”

Looking to the future, he added: “We have got to address this, and if we don’t, what will happen is that we will have another government which will probably not address it and we will end up being a basket case.

“I’m quite happy to say that publicly. This is a big, big problem, and unless we can actually man up and deal with it, I think we’ve got big problems ahead of us.”

- Tory MP Tells Osborne: ‘It’s Time To Man Up’,, March 4, 2013.

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Throwing them a bone?

Smoking gun evidence?

Political horse trading

Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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