three sheets to the wind


2 [sheet]
a rope or chain for extending the clews of a square sail along a yard.
a rope for trimming a fore-and-aft sail.
a rope or chain for extending the lee clew of a course.
verb (used with object)
Nautical. to trim, extend, or secure by means of a sheet or sheets.
three sheets in/to the wind, Slang. intoxicated.

1300–50; Middle English shete, shortening of Old English scēatlīne, equivalent to scēat(a) lower corner of a sail (see sheet1) + līne line1, rope; cognate with Low German schote Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
sheet1 (ʃiːt)
1.  a large rectangular piece of cotton, linen, etc, generally one of a pair used as inner bedclothes
2.  a.  a thin piece of a substance such as paper, glass, or metal, usually rectangular in form
 b.  (as modifier): sheet iron
3.  a broad continuous surface; expanse or stretch: a sheet of rain
4.  a newspaper, esp a tabloid
5.  a piece of printed paper to be folded into a section for a book
6.  a page of stamps, usually of one denomination and already perforated
7.  any thin tabular mass of rock covering a large area
8.  (tr) to provide with, cover, or wrap in a sheet
9.  (intr) (of rain, snow, etc) to fall heavily
[Old English sciete; related to sceat corner, lap, Old Norse skaut, Old High German scōz lap]

sheet2 (ʃiːt)
nautical a line or rope for controlling the position of a sail relative to the wind
[Old English scēata corner of a sail; related to Middle Low German schōte rope attached to a sail; see sheet1]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. sciete (W.Saxon), scete (Mercian) "cloth, covering," from P.Gmc. *skautijon, from base *skauta- "project" (cf. O.N. skaut "corner of cloth," Goth. skauts "seam, hem of a garment;" Du. schoot Ger. Schoß "bosom, lap"), from PIE base *skeud- "to shoot, chase, throw" (see
shoot). Sense of "piece of paper" first recorded 1510; that of "any broad, flat surface" (of metal, open water, etc.) is from 1592. Of falling rain from 1697. Meaning "a newspaper" is first recorded 1749. Sheet lightning is attested from 1794; sheet music is from 1857. Between the sheets "in bed" (usually with sexual overtones) is attested from 1599; to be white as a sheet is from 1751.

"rope that controls a sail," O.E. sceatline "sheet-line," from sceata "lower part of sail," originally "piece of cloth," from same root as sheet (1) (q.v.). The sense transferred to the rope by 1294. This is probably the notion in phrase three sheets to the wind "drunk and
disorganized," first recorded 1821, an image of a sloop-rigged sailboat whose three sheets have slipped through the blocks are lost to the wind, thus out of control.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

three sheets to the wind definition

To be “three sheets to the wind” is to be drunk. The sheet is the line that controls the sails on a ship. If the line is not secured, the sail flops in the wind, and the ship loses headway and control. If all three sails are loose, the ship is out of control.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

three sheets to the wind

Also, three sheets in the wind. Drunk, inebriated, as in After six beers he's three sheets to the wind. This expression is generally thought to refer to the sheetthat is, a rope or chainthat holds one or both lower corners of a sail. If the sheet is allowed to go slack in the wind, the sail flaps about and the boat is tossed about much as a drunk staggers. Having three sheets loose would presumably make the situation all the worse. Another explanation holds that with two or four sheets to the wind the boat is balanced, whereas with three it is not. [Mid-1800s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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