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.