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Three sheets to the wind

Posted by Bruce Kahl on October 25, 2002

In Reply to: three sheets to the wind posted by Gary on October 25, 2002

: : Hello,
: : I know this phrase means "to be drunk". Any idea of its origin? Why is it related to drinking? Thanks for your help.

More detail thanks to ESC:

"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)."

"Captain Cuttle looking, candle in hand, at Bunsby more attentively, perceived that he was three sheets in the wind, or, in plain words, drunk."-Dickens: Dombey and Son.

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