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[sheet] /ʃit/
  1. a rope or chain for extending the clews of a square sail along a yard.
  2. a rope for trimming a fore-and-aft sail.
  3. 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.
Origin of sheet2
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. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for three sheets to the wind


a large rectangular piece of cotton, linen, etc, generally one of a pair used as inner bedclothes
  1. a thin piece of a substance such as paper, glass, or metal, usually rectangular in form
  2. (as modifier): sheet iron
a broad continuous surface; expanse or stretch: a sheet of rain
a newspaper, esp a tabloid
a piece of printed paper to be folded into a section for a book
a page of stamps, usually of one denomination and already perforated
any thin tabular mass of rock covering a large area
(transitive) to provide with, cover, or wrap in a sheet
(intransitive) (of rain, snow, etc) to fall heavily
Word Origin
Old English sciete; related to sceat corner, lap, Old Norse skaut, Old High German scōz lap


(nautical) a line or rope for controlling the position of a sail relative to the wind
Word Origin
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 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for three sheets to the wind



Old English sciete (West Saxon), scete (Mercian) "cloth, covering, towel, shroud," from Proto-Germanic *skautjon-, from *skauta- "project" (cf. Old Norse skaut, Gothic skauts "seam, hem of a garment;" Dutch schoot; German Schoß "bosom, lap"), from PIE root *skeud- "to shoot, chase, throw" (see shoot (v.)).

Sense of "piece of paper" first recorded c.1500; that of "any broad, flat surface" (of metal, open water, etc.) is from 1590s. Of falling rain from 1690s. 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 1590s; to be white as a sheet is from 1751. The first element in sheet-anchor (late 15c.) appears to be a different word, of unknown origin.



"rope that controls a sail," late 13c., shortened from Old English sceatline "sheet-line," from sceata "lower part of sail," originally "piece of cloth," from same root as sheet (n.1). Cf. Old Norse skaut, Dutch schoot, German Schote "rope fastened to a sail."

This probably is the notion in phrase three sheets to the wind "drunk and disorganized," first recorded 1821 (in form three sheets in the wind), an image of a sloop-rigged sailboat whose three sheets have slipped through the blocks are lost to the wind, thus "out of control." Apparently there was an early 19c. informal drunkenness scale in use among sailors and involving one, two, and three sheets, three signifying the highest degree of inebriation; there is a two sheets in the wind from 1815.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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three sheets to the wind in Culture

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 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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Slang definitions & phrases for three sheets to the wind

three sheets to the wind

adjective phrase


[1821+; fr the fact that a drunken person is as helpless and disorganized as a sailboat with its sheets, that is, with its sails, flying, and hence its course and movement entirely out of control]



  1. A newspaper: Both morning sheets have written it up (1749+)
  2. rap sheet: He's a con man with a sheet as long as your arm (Police)

Related Terms

dope sheet, poop sheet, rap sheet, scratch sheet, swindle sheet, three sheets to the wind

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with three sheets to the wind

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 sheet—that is, a rope or chain—that 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® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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