Phrase: three sheets in the wind (1812) Modern version: three sheets to the wind

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 16 16:06:53 UTC 2014

three sheets to the wind
three sheets in the wind

Michael Quinion examined these phrases at World Wide Words:
Three sheets in the wind

A Way with Words covered the topic.
Three Sheets to the Wind, Grant Barrett, Aug 25, 2012

I did not see any relevant messages in the ADS mailing list archive.

Oxford English Dictionary includes the phrase in two locations with a
first citation in 1821.

wind, n.1
 IV. Phrases with prepositions.
  21. in the wind.
   g. Naut. slang (predicatively). Intoxicated; the worse for liquor:
usually with qualification, esp. three sheets in the wind. (Cf. all in
the wind at sense 21a(b).)

sheet, n.2
 2. three sheets in the wind: very drunk. a sheet in the wind
(similarly a sheet in the wind's eye at eye n.1 Phrases 4h(b)) is used
occas. = half drunk.

OED cite: 1821 Egan Real Life i. xviii. 385   Old Wax and Bristles is
about three sheets in the wind.

I received a request to trace the expression. Since it is not a
quotation it is not really within my bailiwick, but a quick look in GB
found a citation in 1812. Maybe JL has a better cite.

[ref] 1812 May 2, The Weekly Register, Travellers in America, Quote
Page 143, Printed and published by H. Niles. (Google Books Full View)
link [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
It must not be wondered at that the poor, untutored, savage
Kentuckyan, got "more than two thirds drunk," that is, as the sailors
term it, three sheets in the wind, and the fourth shivering, before
the dinner was ended, upon a liquor which this great man found
[End excerpt]

The GB match in "History of the Counties of McKean, Elk, and Forest"
is really dated 1890 and not 1800. The GB match in "Journal of Rev.
Francis Asbury" is dated September 26, 1813.


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