The Third Degree – Meaning, Idiom & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Getting the third degree means being subjected to intensive questioning or some kind of severe interrogation. This can range from having a heated discussion with your parents to being questioned by the police. But how is it meant to be used, and where did it come from? My guide explains everything you need to know about adding this idiom to your arsenal.

Do You Write 3rd Degree or the Third Degree?

I know it’s tempting to go the easy route, but, in this case, it’s best to stick with the third degree. Yes, numerals can be used in writing, but spelling out numbers in phrases can make your writing look cleaner and more professional. So, let’s keep it classy and use the third degree.

What Is the Meaning of the Third Degree?

The Third Degree – Meaning Idiom Origin

No, we’re not talking about the third degree in freemasonry (although that comes into play in a moment) or some horrible type of burn. In the idiomatic world, the third degree actually describes a rigorous, thorough, or even ruthless interrogation—basically, getting grilled like a juicy steak at a summer barbecue.

Think about getting in trouble as a kid or teen. Your parents have caught you in the act and are grilling you with questions and concerns. That’s literally what it means to get the third degree.

Is It Hyphenated?

No need for the little dash in this case! When you use this phrase in a sentence, the third degree always goes dash-free, keeping things simple. The exception to this will be if you use it as an adjective before a noun.

  • The cop gave me the third degree.
  • The cop gave me a third-degree grilling.

Origin and Etymology of Giving Someone the Third Degree

Third Degree Ngram
Third degree usage trend.

The whole idea behind the phrase giving someone the third degree came from the practice within the Freemasons, where the third degree is the final and most difficult test someone has to pass to become a full-fledged member. Eventually, the phrase came to describe any rigorous or thorough questioning.

Third Degree Synonyms

Are you looking for other ways to describe this idea? Here are a handful of alternative phrases you can use instead of the third degree:

  • Rigorous interrogation
  • Grilling
  • In-depth questioning
  • Close examination
  • Intense scrutiny

The Third Degree Examples in a Sentence

The Third Degree – Meaning Idiom Origin 1

  • My parents caught me sneaking back in the house and gave me the third degree about where I was last night.
  • The detective gave him the third degree until he confessed to the crime.
  • After coming home late again, she got the third degree from her roommate for waking her up.
  • He wasn’t expecting to be given the third degree during the job interview.
  • They’re giving Dave the third degree about his involvement in the work scandal.
  • She received the third degree from her parents after they found out about the party she threw while they were away.
  • The suspect was put through the third degree for several hours.
  • Don’t go giving me the third degree; I’ve told you everything I know!
  • I just got the third degree from my boss about the publishing project’s failure.
  • After the incident, every member of the team faced the third degree.

Enduring the Third Degree Together

Well, you made it through my guide about the third degree. Hopefully, it was more enlightening than intimidating! Keep digging into more fun idioms like this one—improving your language skills doesn’t have to feel like an interrogation. Here at Grammarist, we’ve got your back with hundreds of tips and guides.