basket case (n.)
1919, American English, originally a reference to rumors of quadriplegics as a result of catastrophic wounds suffered in World War I (the U.S. military authorities vehemently denied there were any such in its hospitals), from basket (n.) + case (n.2). Probably literal, i.e., stuck in a basket, but basket had colloquial connotations of poverty (begging) and helplessness long before this. Figurative sense of "person emotionally unable to cope" is from 1921.
updated on April 08, 2017