three sheets to the wind

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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