“Hell In A Handbasket” – Meaning And Examples

The saying, “go to hell in a handbasket” is another way of saying to “deteriorate” or “become a disaster.” It is normally used to describe when things aren’t going very well for a person. It can also describe when someone’s actions lead them in the wrong direction. 

How Did “Go To Hell In A Handbasket” Originate? 

Interestingly, “go to hell in a handbasket” originated in the American Civil war and later spread to other countries. Unfortunately, there isn’t any clear origin of why the phrase came about or what inspired the phrase. 

The main assumption about its origin is that “handbasket” is used because it adds alliteration to the statement. This is true for other forms of the phrase, such as “go to hell in a handbag” or “go to hell in a handcart.” 

Regardless, “go to hell in a handbasket” is by far the most popular form and acts to describe when someone or something is about to deteriorate or become a disaster. 

Two cartoon stick figures talking. One says: "What should we do?! The economy is going to hell in a handbasket!" The other replies: "invest in hand baskets"

Examples In Literature

Let’s take a look at a few examples from reputable media sources:

A neighbour drops by and launches into a torrent of lamentation about how “they” – whoever “they” are – are causing it all to go to hell in a handbasket. – The Independent

“This will make Texas, California and New Jersey all comparable while they go to hell in a handbasket. – The New York Times

If interest rates rise, they won’t go to hell in a handbasket with the rest of your fixed-income portfolio. – Forbes

I mean, the speech itself was about what you’d expect — America will go to Hell in a handbasket if Obama gets a second term, that sort of thing — but her delivery was a real wowzer. – Huffington Post

Here are a few more articles about common expressions:

Come To Bear

Hindsight 20/20

Happy As A Clam

So the next time your write that business email, you can spruce things up a bit:

Hi Mark, 

I am attaching the quarterly report here.  As you will, it seems our efforts have really come to bear! I, for one, am as happy as a clam.  Makes me wonder why we didn’t implement this strategy earlier. But of course, hindsight is 20/20. 

Luckily for all of us, it seems your prediction that this quarter will go to hell in a hell basket was way off.  So… lunch is on you?

See at noon,


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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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