Give someone the third degree

The expression to give someone the third degree is an American idiom. We will examine the definition of the term give someone the third degree, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To give someone the third degree means to interrogate them ruthlessly, to grill them without mercy, perhaps with threats or bodily harm. The idiom give someone the third degree came into use around the turn of the twentieth century in the United States to describe interrogations by some police departments. The origin of the idiom is uncertain. Some credit Washington D.C. police chief Richard H. Sylvester, claiming that he divided police procedures into first degree or arrest, second degree or transportation to jail, and third degree or interrogation. A much more plausible explanation is the link with Freemasonry, in which the Third Degree level of Master Mason is achieved by undergoing a rigorous examination by the elders of the lodge. Related idiomatic phrases are gives someone the third degree, gave someone the third degree, giving someone the third degree.


Steven performed the walk of shame just as Lushion gave him the third degree about him being caught in a compromising situation.  (The Canyon News)

Even when I was applying for the disability pension, the woman was really giving me the third degree, and I said, look, it’s not a badge of honour, you know.  (The Guardian)

Rather than honor his community service, some council members gave him the third degree and suggested he didn’t really need a parking space if he could serve as a volunteer firefighter. (The York Daily Record)