Posted by ESC on January 28, 2001
In Reply to: Three sheets to the wind posted by D. Feather on January 28, 2001
: My understanding was that this expression referred to a windmill with only three of it four sails(sheets) set. Because it would wobble with only three sails set it mimicked a drunkards walk.
THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND - "Sails are controlled with ropes called 'sheets' and the most any sail has is two - a lee side sheet and a weather sheet. The sailor's contention is that if a man who had been drinking was given as many as 'three' sheets he could still not steady or control himself on a regular course. An alternative idea is that of a ship caught with three (jib) sheets in the wind as she goes from one tack to the other. The sails would flap and the ship would wallow and stagger in the locomotion of a drunk." From "Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions" by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (Sheridan House, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1995. First published in Great Britain, 1983).