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Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'

Long Firm Freddie 31 Dec 06 - 02:21 PM
Sorcha 31 Dec 06 - 02:27 PM
sapper82 31 Dec 06 - 02:33 PM
maeve 31 Dec 06 - 02:35 PM
Uncle_DaveO 31 Dec 06 - 04:32 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 31 Dec 06 - 04:36 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 31 Dec 06 - 04:38 PM
mack/misophist 31 Dec 06 - 06:21 PM
Long Firm Freddie 01 Jan 07 - 08:54 AM
Effsee 01 Jan 07 - 09:07 AM
GUEST,Campman 19 Mar 10 - 02:47 PM
Jack Campin 19 Mar 10 - 07:19 PM
GUEST,sparkplug62 06 Jan 11 - 05:19 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 06 Jan 11 - 05:34 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 06 Jan 11 - 05:36 PM
Mrrzy 06 Jan 11 - 05:41 PM
Sandra in Sydney 06 Jan 11 - 06:14 PM
Penny S. 07 Jan 11 - 04:38 AM
Charley Noble 07 Jan 11 - 11:53 AM
Charley Noble 07 Jan 11 - 11:58 AM
Francy 07 Jan 11 - 01:22 PM
Taconicus 07 Jan 11 - 02:02 PM
GUEST,Songbob 07 Jan 11 - 02:31 PM
GUEST,Ebor.Fiddler 07 Jan 11 - 06:44 PM
GUEST,me 01 Nov 11 - 06:47 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 02 Nov 11 - 02:28 PM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Nov 11 - 02:39 PM
MGM·Lion 02 Nov 11 - 02:50 PM
dick greenhaus 02 Nov 11 - 02:52 PM
MartinRyan 02 Nov 11 - 02:58 PM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Nov 11 - 02:58 PM
Jim Dixon 02 Nov 11 - 04:08 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 02 Nov 11 - 05:29 PM
GUEST,julie dunbar 03 Jan 16 - 09:17 AM
Mr Red 03 Jan 16 - 10:15 AM
Joe_F 03 Jan 16 - 06:21 PM
Mr Red 08 Jan 16 - 07:40 AM
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Subject: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Long Firm Freddie
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 02:21 PM

I've always rather liked the imagery of "We're all going to hell in a handcart".

Can anyone tell me where it came from?

LFF


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handca
From: Sorcha
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 02:27 PM

I don't 'know' but my first guess would be the Mormon pioneers who set off for the wilderness with hand carts.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: sapper82
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 02:33 PM

I often couple it with "....... on a road paved with good intentions."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handca
From: maeve
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 02:35 PM

And I learnt it as "in a handbasket."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handca
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 04:32 PM

A wonderful resource for this sort of thing is a site about language origins called Worldwide Words

Michael Quinion, the proprietor, says as follows:

[Q] From Brian Walker: "Can you please tell me anything about the origin of the phrase going to hell in a handbasket?"

[A] This is a weird one. It's a fairly common American expression, known for much of the twentieth century. But it's one about which almost no information exists, at least in the two dozen or so reference books I've consulted. William and Mary Morris, in their Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, confess to the same difficulty. A handbasket is just a basket to be carried in the hand (my thanks to the Oxford English Dictionary for that gem of definition). The Dictionary of American Regional English records to go to heaven in a handbasket rather earlier than the alternative, which doesn't appear in print until the 1940s (Walt Quader tells me that Burton Stevenson included a citation in his Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases from Bayard Kendrick's The Odor of Violets, published in 1941). But DARE quotes a related expression from 1714: "A committee brought in something about Piscataqua. Govr said he would give his head in a Handbasket as soon as he would pass it", which suggests that it, or at least phrases like it, have been around in the spoken language for a long time. For example, there's an even older expression, to go to heaven in a wheelbarrow, recorded as early as 1629, which also meant "to go to hell". I can only assume that the alliteration of the hs has had a lot to do with the success of the various phrases, and that perhaps handbasket suggests something easily and speedily done.

--------

If you are curious about language, I urge you to check this site out, and sign up for his weekly (on Saturday) email. Free, and no dataminers, viruses, et cetera. Fascinating, always!

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 04:36 PM

Slightly informative article HERE, though it doesn't appear anyone knows that much about the phrase's origin.

I would venture that "handcart" and "handbasket" are mere variations and not of independent origin. And that "...in a a basket" and "...in a bucket" are further variations.

I think part of the phrase's appeal is that it imparts a sense of loss of control. Going to Hell is bad enough, but going there in a handcart means either the handcart's out of control or somebody else is pushing it.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 04:38 PM

1913- "go down the *tobog to ruin in a handbasket"- Wichita Daily Times, Wichita Falls, Texas.
*toboggan, thus down the slide.

There is an indirect statement by a 17th c. preacher about going to Hell in a wheelbarrow, but may not be directly related to the saying about a handcart.

From googling. Not found in Lighter.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: mack/misophist
Date: 31 Dec 06 - 06:21 PM

The DARE entry suggests an explanation. It's only a guess, though. In execution by decapitation, the head was usually caught in a basket; as in the governor offering 'his head in a basket'.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handca
From: Long Firm Freddie
Date: 01 Jan 07 - 08:54 AM

Thanks so much, everyone.

I did a bit more rootling round on the net, and found a reference to the stained glass windows of Fairford church in Gloucestershire, England, which depict many biblical scenes and are known as the Poor Man's Bible.

These date back to about 1500AD, and are the only complete set of medieval stained glass windows to have escaped the attentions of Mr Cromwell, O. and his men.

According to one source, one of the windows includes an image of a blue devil taking a sinner to hell in a wheelbarrow...

Are there any blue devil 'catters who could confirm what there preferred method of transporation for condemned souls might be?

LFF


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Effsee
Date: 01 Jan 07 - 09:07 AM

I'd go for an asbestos box if given the choice!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: GUEST,Campman
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 02:47 PM

An alternative explanation of "To hell in a handcart" is found in the building of the transcontinental railroad. There was a mobile town of saloons, gambling and whore houses that followed the railhead. This town was known as "hell".   A handcart is the small four wheel conveyance that has handles that are pumped up and down for motion.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Jack Campin
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 07:19 PM

The People's Palace Museum in Glasgow has a special-purpose handcart that was used by the police for carting drunks off to the cells. If you were drunk enough to require that sort of attention in 19th century Glasgow, you had to be *really* drunk: the cart was a wheeled stretcher with a lot of heavy-duty leather straps that even the strongest and craziest drunk couldn't get out of. I would guess that most large cities in the late 19th century had something similar.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: GUEST,sparkplug62
Date: 06 Jan 11 - 05:19 PM

I heard that it originated in the days of the plagues when people would come around to homes with handcarts and ask for the dead to be brought out and thrown in the handcarts to be taken for cremation (hell).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 06 Jan 11 - 05:34 PM

Oxford English Dictionary-
1865, I. Windslow Ayer-
"Thousands of our best men were prisoners in Camp Douglas, and if once at liberty, would 'send abolitionists to hell in a hand basket'".
Close.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 06 Jan 11 - 05:36 PM

Camp Douglas was a prison for Confederate soldiers, in Chicago, IL.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Mrrzy
Date: 06 Jan 11 - 05:41 PM

The head in a handbasket phrase reminds me of midieval (absolutely every single spelling of this word looks wrong in English!) kings sending another ruler's cousin's head to them in a handbasket, a la Braveheart, that would make sense as a British expression for Never as quoted above.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 06 Jan 11 - 06:14 PM

Many victims of the Great Plague were buried together in pits - cremation was against religious beliefs of the time & not legal in Britain until the late 19th century.

Grave concerns: the disposal of London's dead


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Penny S.
Date: 07 Jan 11 - 04:38 AM

Probably totally irrelevant, but I have an image in mind of St Cuthman of Sussex, who wanted to travel to spread the Word, but had to look after his aged mum, so wheeled her with him, in a handcart. Presumably this would be the heaven version, but that would depend on what his AM was like.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handca
From: Charley Noble
Date: 07 Jan 11 - 11:53 AM

I wonder if the expression was originally "Going to Hull in a handbasket"?

Not likely, though. I've been to Hull and back and would readily do it again. I'm less sure about Hell, although I've been through Hell, Michigan.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handca
From: Charley Noble
Date: 07 Jan 11 - 11:58 AM

Oh, I forgot to put in a link to Hell, Michigan: click here for a good time!

They even have a general store there called "Hell in a Handbasket."

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Francy
Date: 07 Jan 11 - 01:22 PM

"He's gone to hell in a basket....One of those hand woven caskets"...From a Tom T Hall song....early 70's....Frank of Toledo


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Taconicus
Date: 07 Jan 11 - 02:02 PM

I don't know the origin, but it's always seemed to me to refer to being brought to ruin or evil by means of actions, activities, or ways of living that appear festive or benign on the surface.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: GUEST,Songbob
Date: 07 Jan 11 - 02:31 PM

I don't know anything about this, but it reminds me of a news story of a while ago. It seems that astrophysicists and other researchers have determined the shape of the universe. Not just our spiral galaxy, but the whole shootin' match.

It's a series of closed elliptical curves, overlaying each other in ways, said one scientist, "vaguely reminiscent of a hand-basket."

Bob


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: GUEST,Ebor.Fiddler
Date: 07 Jan 11 - 06:44 PM

From Hull, Hell and Halifax,
God Lord Deliver us!

- Thieves' Litany


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: GUEST,me
Date: 01 Nov 11 - 06:47 PM

In Fairford church, Gloucestershire, the great West window (installed before 1517 AD) shows the Day of Judgment in stained glass, with the innocent going to heaven and the guilty going to hell. Among the latter is an old woman in a wheelbarrow, being pushed to her doom by a blue devil. So the idea of "going to hell in a handcart" is a good 500 years old.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 02:28 PM

Long Firm Freddie posted the Gloucesterhire source back in nineteen and ought seven.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 02:39 PM

"mediaeval" is really the better spelling, since it indicates the etymology (aetas - epoch/age). But the simplified "medieval" is also counted as correct, even this side of the Atlantic.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 02:50 PM

To be precise, Kevin ~~ 'mediæval'...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 02:52 PM

Clearly, it refers to a London prostitute named Helena Handcart.
Fakelore can be a fascinating study, as long as it's not trammele with facts.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: MartinRyan
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 02:58 PM

"The Devil he hoisted her up on his back.."

- in a basket, of course!

;>)>

Regards


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 02:58 PM

"Hell in a handbag" when referring to the Thatcher years and their continuing consequences...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 04:08 PM

For each of these expressions, the oldest example I can find is American, and they are only 3 years apart. It's interesting that they are both from the field of finance and government:


"I want to tell him that I am not talking here for the benefit of men who would rather ride to hell in a handcart than to walk to heaven supported by the staff of honest industry, as it has been said."

--The Coming Battle: A Complete History of the National Banking Money Power in the United States by M. W. Walbert (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1899), page 430.


"These are the unhung idiots who imagine that a nation, producing in abundance everything humanity needs, would go to hell in a handbasket if it adopted an independent currency system or an international policy which Yewrup did not approve."

--Brann the Iconoclast: A Collection of the Writings of W. C Brann In Two Volumes With Biography by J. D. Shaw (Waco, TX: Herz Brothers, 1896), page 228.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Nov 11 - 05:29 PM

The image in the Gloucestershire church window may have nothing to do with the origin of the phrase, as the post by Jim Dixon shows.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: GUEST,julie dunbar
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 09:17 AM

Surely going to hell in a handcart must have some reference to the plague in the uk when dead bodies were collected in a handcart. A bell was rung and people were asked to bring out their dead. They were taken to mass graves e.g. Blackheath in London.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Mr Red
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 10:15 AM

The image in the Gloucestershire church window may have nothing to do with the origin of the phrase, as the post by Jim Dixon shows. bare credits consideration without provenance. I will post a photograph when I am in Fairford next.

The stained glass windows, if predating Cromwell, establish the concept as far back as those days. One can speculate it reflect common parlance of the day, when people could not read but could associate with the reference. And the notion of it being related to the Plague is very tempting.

I have said this many times: one reason single for a phrase's existence (especially in lyrics) is not a given. The Folk process that makes it survive is often that it chimes on several levels and over many centuries.

Let the debate continue, until we are all: taken to hell in a .............


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Joe_F
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 06:21 PM

I have heard tell of a

    young man from Nantucket
    Who went down to hell in a bucket.

His subsequent rudeness need not concern us here.

I have also read (I forget where) of someone going to *heaven* in a basket. It is nice to know that that is also possible.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Origin of 'Going to hell in a handcart'
From: Mr Red
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 07:40 AM

Devil, Wheelbarrow & Old Woman. Window in Fairford Church if you look carefully you can see the figures above/behind the Devil & wheelbarrow are less like a wheelbarrow and more like a er, um, could it be, a Handcart?

Larger view showing the two "carts". Window in Fairford Church

Both should open in new tab/window


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