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Underwater Basket Weaving
I can't remember why I searched for "Underwater Basket Weaving" on wikipedia, but when I did I was surprised to discover that it's a real craft. I had frequently heard the phrase used in college as a joke to mean an easy class, and it always made me imagine people submerged in a swimming pool trying to weave a basket. I never thought it was something real. But turns out it is real. Wikipedia defines it as:
a process of making wicker baskets which involves dipping reeds or stalks of plants into (or, as the name suggests, under) water and allowing them to soak. This process will provide a very supple and flexible reed which can then be woven into a basket given enough time. The baskets then will be allowed to dry and provide a sturdy container.
I'm assuming that Wikipedia's definition is correct. After all, it sounds reasonable. But it made me wonder how the term came to mean an easy class, and whether any colleges actually offer Underwater Basket Weaving.

The second question is the easiest to answer, since the Wikipedia article also states that: "The University of California, San Diego's recreation department first offered an underwater basket-weaving class in 1984. Saint Joseph's College in Indiana offers this class as well."

I want to verify that UCSD and St. Joseph's actually do offer such a course. But assuming they do, do any other colleges offer it? I'm not sure. All I can say is that I've never seen it listed in any college catalog. (Wikipedia links to an Underwater Basket Weaving syllabus supposedly offered by the University of Portsmouth, but the syllabus reads like a joke, so I'm guessing it is a joke.)

The earliest reference to the term that I could find, searching on Newspaper Archive, was May 9, 1960. The author of a Pasadena Independent trivia column noted that "Son Herbert reports that underwater basket weaving is all the rage among college students who want to spare the brain cells." So evidently the joke had been well established by 1960. I would guess the origin of the term dates to the late 1950s. Did the joke start after a college actually began offering this course? I don't know, but it seems possible.
Art
Posted by The Curator on Mon Oct 16, 2006


Back in the late 70's, I attended a night class at the New School, an "independent university" in Greenwich Village in New York City.

The students who took the regular classes during the day referred to the adult education night class stuff as "basket weaving." I've heard that term applied to things like the Learning Annex as well. I never heard the word "underwater" attached to the derogative term though.

Just an aside: the class I took was allegedly about comedy performance (the instructor wasn't very good); the guest he brought for one class was Alan Abel, the hoaxer, with whom I've been loosely associated with ever since. So I got something out of my tuition after all.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Mon Oct 16, 2006  at  02:31 AM
I don't know. Underwater basketweaving doesn't sound that easy. I always heard it used more in terms of a waste of time class rather then an easy class.
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Mon Oct 16, 2006  at  02:55 AM
Did it in craftwork classes school:)
Posted by outeast  in  Prague  on  Mon Oct 16, 2006  at  04:20 AM
My High School band director would commpare non-doctor, non-engineering majors to the "underwater basket weaving" Yeah, he pretty much called all art, law, and, well, every other major useless, as is the formerly mentioned "basket weaving". Funny, because he himself was a music major...seemed a bit hypocritical to me...
Posted by Dily  in  West Virginia  on  Mon Oct 16, 2006  at  10:06 AM
I still think "underwater basketweaving" is a bogus term. Surely even in the process described (weaving water-soaked reeds) the weaving doesn't take place underwater.
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  in  St. Louis, MO  on  Mon Oct 16, 2006  at  11:32 AM
I guess the term is used by educational bodies as a sarcastic joke of sorts. A few months ago during my convocation, we were being briefed on the ceremonial process, and the bogus degree used during the briefing was for, you guessed it, Underwater Basket Weaving.
Posted by RAMChYLD  in  Malaysia  on  Mon Oct 16, 2006  at  09:21 PM
JoeDaJuggler, you can weave the stuff together while holding it all underwater, or you can pull it out to weave it (although then you have to keep sticking it back in the water to keep it from drying out). If you wanted to be really ambitious, you could even get a snorkel and keep yourself underwater while you weave.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Tue Oct 17, 2006  at  12:37 AM
The term may have come from college football and may date back to the days of Indian atheletes like Jim Thorpe. Ohio State stars were derided as having majors in 'basket weaving.' I find too that Indian women played a game they called 'football.' It involved keeping the ball in the air for the longest time using only the feet.
Posted by Phred22  in  Beltsville, MD  on  Tue Oct 17, 2006  at  10:15 AM
My local dive club is hosting their Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest next week!
Posted by scuba diver  in  South Florida  on  Tue Oct 17, 2006  at  01:30 PM
Back when I was much younger, say about thirty five or so years ago, I heard the term "basket weaving" used to describe coursed given to football jocks in order to keep them academically elligible. I heard it applied to several universities, I presumed then that it was a universal term. My Godmother was taking some classes at Arizona State University (I forgave her) and the football team was supposed to be in the class. She never saw them except when a test had to be taken, and even then she wasn't sure of their identities.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Tue Oct 17, 2006  at  01:44 PM
"I don't know. Underwater basketweaving doesn't sound that easy. I always heard it used more in terms of a waste of time class rather then an easy class."

Same here. When I had to pick electives for highschool (which was a big waste, since I ended up un-enrolling myself before it began) my homeroom teacher made a big deal out of filling everthing out & turning it in on time, if we didn't she would auto fill that we wanted to take "underwater basket weaving 101".
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Tue Oct 17, 2006  at  05:30 PM
"My Godmother was taking some classes at Arizona State University"

Christopher...I am so very sorry.
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Tue Oct 17, 2006  at  07:04 PM
That phrase dates back to the 1930's. It came and went through the years. It was more in use since the 1970's!
Posted by Spazz  in  Smth-Eng  on  Fri Oct 20, 2006  at  07:34 PM
Basket-weaving used to have the reputation of an activity that institutions made mental patients do, as it was easy and productive.

I've never heard the term 'underwater basket-weaving' used to refer to an easy class, however; only a waste-of-time class that does not count as credit towards a major.

As in, "Watch out for that one counselor, she will have you convinced that you need six hours of Underwater Basket Weaving to graduate, but it's not on any of the degree plans."
Posted by Barghest  on  Mon Oct 30, 2006  at  06:09 PM
I have taken a course on underwater basketweaving for 4-H. You just have to get the reeds wet. You don't actually have to put the reeds underwater. As long as you put them underwater for at least 5 minutes, and you have a spraybottle full w/ it on mist, you can do underwater basketweaving. cool hmm
Posted by Student  in  school  on  Mon Apr 14, 2008  at  10:01 AM
I call this a real mans sport, yep me and the boys every mornin at the crack of dawn! I tell you what im a mean lean basket weaving machine!
Posted by TheBanjoMaster4:20  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  12:16 PM
I really didn't know this was something offered in college. I have heard my parents use the phrase and never really understood what they were talking about. One of those jokes you just smile and act like it is funny.
Posted by Birmingham Yellow Pages  in  USA  on  Wed Aug 13, 2008  at  11:16 AM
Hey Johnny, at least Irish Road Bowling is a real sport, it takes skill to keep the bowl on the road and get it around corners without going off and getting a penalty.
Now Evening classes are something else. At least "Needle Craft For Junkies" gets them off the streets for a few hours each week.
Posted by ScooterNZ  in  New Zealand  on  Sun Feb 21, 2010  at  03:55 AM
UCSD student here. The class is real, just not for credit.
Posted by scubasteve  in  UCSD  on  Tue Mar 02, 2010  at  11:16 PM
I think that Reed College offers an underwater basket weaving class.
Posted by KFD  in  Portland, OR  on  Tue Jul 06, 2010  at  02:07 AM
Reed College has offered Underwater Basket Weaving as a Paideia course since 1980. I should know, because I started it.

Usually baskets are woven by repeatedly dipping the reeds into water to keep them supple. With the reeds constantly submerged they are easier to weave. Generally the class is taught with the students up to their shoulders in water, once the instruction is done, the students can use snorkels to stay underwater.
Posted by McDruid  in  Colorado Springs  on  Tue Jul 06, 2010  at  03:23 PM
I know Reed students weave reeds underwater b/c I married the first student to enroll in Reed's Underwater Basket Weaving course. I've seen the photos - too old to be photoshop fakes. My mother-in-law still has the basket. (Susan says "hi" Drew-id)
Posted by Rabo Karabekian Jr.  in  Grand Junction CO  on  Tue Jul 06, 2010  at  11:32 PM
Synanon probably coined this term oiginally. Part of the bonding ritual which became embedded in what would later be referred to as the Friendship Workshop in other cult based RTC's. Based on the peer group concept developed by the Chinese.
Posted by De-programmed  in  USA  on  Sat Aug 06, 2011  at  11:04 PM
Having done underwater basket weaving in scouts (Basketry merit badge!), I can confirm it is easy to do (badly). To do it properly requires enough raw material, time and a bit of perfectionism (time we had plenty of but the amount of material provided in the kits wasn't, most of my fellow scouts lacked the perfectionism required, you are correct in your surmise that I was not popular, *sigh*).
Posted by blindwanderer  in  USA  on  Thu Jan 19, 2012  at  09:11 PM
It is almost impossible to weave baskets without soaking the canes in water...
Posted by Alan  in  Australia  on  Wed Mar 28, 2012  at  01:40 PM
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