Three sheets to the wind
Dave Wilton, Monday, April 23, 2007
The phrase three sheets to (or in) the wind means to be drunk. The sheet in question is a reference to a rope tied to a corner of a sail that is used to control it. To have a sheet loose in the wind is bad seamanship, to have three loose means you are not capable of controlling the boat. The phrase dates to at least 1821; from Pierce Egan’s Real Life in London of that year:
The Australian author Peter Carey, in his period piece Parrot and Olivier in America, uses the phrase “two sheets to the wind”—obviously derived from “three sheets to the wind”. Does it have a separate standing or is it just another coined phrase?