Three sheets to the wind

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Three sheets to the wind is a phrase that means extremely inebriated, very drunk. Three sheets to the wind is a nautical term. Interestingly, in sailing parlance sheet is a rope, line or sometimes a chain that attaches to the corner of a sail, not the sail itself. If a sailor does not keep the sheets tight then the sails flap and wobble, allowing the ship to stagger off course, like a drunk. Sailors devised a scale of drunkenness. One sheet to the wind described a slightly tipsy sailor, four sheets to the wind referred to a sailor who had passed out from drinking alcohol. Three sheets to the wind is first seen in print as three sheets in the wind in the early nineteenth century, though it is assumed that this sailors’ scale of drunkenness existed long before then.


Shane Smith began his speech three sheets to the wind, lying prone on stage, surrounded by dozens of breathless hipsters with the same haircut and beard, smartphones illuminating the darkness. (The International Business Times)

“I see a couple of kids who are three sheets to the wind already, but for the most part, everyone’s behaving themselves.” (The Hollywood Reporter)

And from Chaucer’s time to the present, generations of English speakers have been concocting innovative inebriation terms: “three sheets to the wind,” “blind,” “shellacked” and “sauced.” (The Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

A Panhandle woman, Lindsey Wall, was jailed after her uncle reported she stole his car and was driving around three sheets to the wind, reports WEAR ABC News-3 in Pensacola. (The Sun Sentinel)

So-called ‘pre-loading’ means thousands of revelers arrive at pubs already three sheets to the wind, massively increasing the possibility of violence and anti-social activity. (The Daily Express)