three sheets to the wind

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three sheets to the wind

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Jul 22, 2004 3:51 am

I am looking for the origin to the expression "three sheets to the wind"
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this is a nautical phrase.Paradoxically,sheets on a masted ship actually refer to the ropes that control the sails, not the sails themselves. each sail was tethered to four ropes(sheets).If one or more of the sheets was not secured, the sail would become useless or unmanageable.if you were three sheets to the wind,you only had one left.this was quite a precarious situation.Four sheets to the wind and you were most probably going to lose the sail and shhets.I found this in both books that I own on terms that have come from the maritime world.thanks,jim cookn.sa
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This expression is very interesting and involves some colorful etymology. The first response is correct, but I found quite a bit of additional information, which I would like to share. Each source offered some unique points (and some minor contradictions) and rather than excerpting various bits and pieces, I’m just going to give them in their entirety.
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Word Detective

The phrase "three sheets to the wind" does indeed come from the world of seafaring, specifically sailing ships. The "sheets" in the phrase are not sails, but ropes. Of course, the first thing one learns about ropes once aboard ship is that they are never called "ropes." They are named according to their particular function: halyards (which move or hold things, usually sails, vertically), sheets (which move or hold things horizontally), and lines (which hold things in a static position). The sheets in this case are those ropes which hold the sails in place. If one sheet is loose, the sail will flap in the wind and the ship's progress will be unsteady. Two sheets loose ("in the wind"), and you have a major problem, and with "three sheets in the wind," the ship reels like a drunken sailor.

The specific number of "three sheets" in the phrase wasn't random, by the way -- there was, at one time, a sort of rating system of inebriation among sailors, where "one sheet" meant "tipsy" and so on, up to "four sheets in the wind," meaning to be completely unconscious.

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Word Maven

The usual sense of ‘sheet’ is 'a large, thin, rectangular piece of fabric used as bedding', with a host of subsenses. This word is from Old English, and is related to similar words in other Germanic languages.

The word ‘sheet’ in our expression is the nautical ‘sheet,’ meaning 'a rope, chain, etc. used to secure or adjust the sail of a ship'. This word is also ultimately from Old English, a shortening of ‘sheet-line,’ that is, 'sail-rope', with the ‘sheet’ the same as our above ‘sheet’ in the sense 'a sail'.

The original form of the expression was ‘three sheets in the wind’ (not "to"), which literally means 'with the sail completely unsecured', and thus flapping about, and with the boat itself thus unsteady. (Sails can be secured with varying numbers of sheets, but the square-rigged boats used at the time when the expression became current usually had three sheets.) There are many other nautical expressions for drunkenness, such as "with decks awash," "half seas over," and "over the bay," but few of them have spread so thoroughly to the mainstream.

‘Three sheets in the wind’ is first found in the early 1820s in both British and American sources. There are many other variants ("a sheet in the wind," meaning 'somewhat drunk', etc.), and the most common form today is ‘three.’
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Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins

THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND: ‘Sheets’ aren’t sails in nautical use; neither are they bed coverings. A sheet is a rope or a chain attached to the lower corner of a sail that is used for shortening and extending it. When all three sheet are on a three-sailed vessel (such as a ketch) are loosened, allowed to run free, the sails flap and flutter in the wind. Thus sailors would say a person slightly drunk had ‘one sheet to the wind’ and that someone who could barely navigate had ‘three sheets to the wind.’ The expression is first recorded in Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast’ (1840).

Professor Albert Huetteman of University of Massachusetts offers another possible derivation if ‘three sheets to the wind’: “On Nantucket Island . . . we took the local tour bus, which stopped at the Nantucket windmill. The elderly gentleman tour guide told us a story of how the windmill keeper’s job was to install canvas sheets on the four arms of the windmill when the wind conditions were right. If he drank too much, however, he might only install three sheets, thus giving rise to the phrase, ‘three sheets to the wind.’”
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Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang

THREE SHEETS IN/TO THE WIND adjective [mid-19th century and still in use]: drunk, also as ‘two/four/six sheets to the wind’; abbreviated as ‘three sheets’ etc (cf. ‘afloat’). [naval imagery ((only to non-naval people and technically incorrect)) a ship carrying ‘three sheets (sails to the wind’ is ‘top-heavy’]
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Some other colorful nautical synonyms for ‘three sheets to the wind’ (drunk) are: afloat; all at sea; awash; buoyant; carrying a load; decks-awash; half seas over, half the bay over; have one’s back teeth afloat; have one’s back teeth awash; needing a reef taken in; overseas; over the bay.
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Ken G – November 29, 2002
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An interesting quote "that he was three sheets in the wind, or in plain words, drunk" is found in Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens, Chapter XXXIX. The novel was published in monthly installments beginning in October 1846.

Edwin D. Maberly
Professor of Finance
University of Canterbury
Christchurch, New Zealand
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Phil White » Wed Oct 01, 2008 8:02 am

I've never been too happy about any of these suggestions about sheets being used to tie sails to masts and sails flapping in the wind. Sheets are ropes (sometimes chains) used to control the angle that a sail presents to the wind. On a square-rigged ship, there are two per sail (6, 8 or 10 per mast) and on a gaff-rigged ship or yacht, for example there is generally just one sheet per sail.

Although some people maintain that "seven sheets to the wind" is the correct form of the idiom, "three" sheets is far more popular, and the number makes it very peculiar in the context of serious sized sailing ships.

But in the absence of any other explanations, and faced with the overwhelming agreement of the quoted authorities, I let it go.

But today I came across a really wacky explanation in one of Erik's news items:
Prof David Singleton, head of Trinity College Dublin's Centre for Language and Communication Studies, explains what makes a good new phrase. "Some of them do hang around long after their original coining has been forgotten and their original situations have disappeared," he says. The phrase "three sheets to the wind", for example, "comes from the time of windmills, when a three-sailed windmill was much less stable than a windmill with four sails"
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/fea ... tml?via=mr
In the innumerable discussions on the web, this theory crops up a lot and is cross-quoted alarmingly frequently.

Ken?
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Oct 03, 2008 9:59 am

Phil, Of the many, more ‘reliable’ sources (slang dictionaries, seafaring dictionaries, . . .) I checked for the derivation of THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND, only one other mentioned the ‘windmill’ idea (see above Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins), and there it was mentioned as ‘another possible derivation.’ It seems that Prof. Singleton is a pretty lonely etymologist in suggesting with certitude that it actually did derive from an association with ‘sheets = sails’ on windmills. Most others state as fact or surmise that the expression was born and was originally used as a nautical expression based on ‘sheet = rope’ (“from a shortening of the word ‘sheet-line,’ that is, ‘sail-rope’ as discussed above. And I’d have to see some supporting evidence before I would swallow the ‘windmill’ suggestion and I think there is sufficient evidence to the contrary to conclude that it is in all likelihood horse manure.

Of all the sources I checked for the derivation of THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND, the two I would trust the most in this instance are the following:

1) The Word Maven, Jesse Sheidlower, (see above listing) formerly of Random House and a very careful fellow who does his homework meticulously and chooses his words carefully, and who is now editor at Oxford English Dictionary.
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2) A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O’ Brian by King, Hattendorf, & Estes. Dean King is the author of the biography Patrick O’Brian: A Life, Harbors and High Seas, and the Heart of Oak Sea Classics series. John B. Hattendorf is the J. King Professor of Maritime History and director of the Advanced Research Department in the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. J. Worth Estes, is a professor of pharmacology at Boston University and a specialist in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century maritime medicine. And, in my opinion, these guys have the bona fides to discuss seafaring matters with some authority:

THREE SHEETS TO (IN) THE WIND: Very drunk, deriving from the fact that a ship with her SHEETS in the wind, or loose, is an unsteady, rolling vessel. [[Note: Although TO THE WIND is heard more commonly today, the original and more accurate expression is IN THE WIND. The second conveys the correct meaning of ‘loose ropes in the wind,’ whereas TO THE WIND means specifically, towards the direction from which the wind is blowing; so as to be on the wind (less commonly on a wind. Close to the wind, very nearly in this direction: also figuratively.]]

SHEET: A rope attached to either of the lower corners (clews) of a square sail or the boom or after lower corner (clew) of a fore-and-aft sail and used to extend the sail or to alter its direction. To sheet home is to haul in a sheet until the foot of a sail is as straight and as taut as possible.
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3) And, I would give Michael Quinion’s listing on Word Wide Words honorable mention.
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OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

THREE SHEETS IN THE WIND: Very drunk. [A SHEET IN THE WIND (or WIND’S EYE) is used occasionally = half drunk.
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ALL IN THE WIND / IN THE WIND:

a) see 1769 quote below.

b) Nautical slang (predicatively). Intoxicated; the worse for liquor: usually with qualification, especially, THREE SHEETS IN THE WIND.
<1769 “ALL IN THE WIND, the state of a ship’s sails when they are parallel to the direction of wind, so as to shake and shiver.”—An Universal Dictionary of the Marine (1780) by W. Falconer>

<1818 “I did not think . . . I was so much in drink! But now by th' holy smut I find That cursedly I'm IN THE WIND”—The Adventures of Johnny Newcome in the Navy by A. Burton, III. page 175>
[[although this quote predates the following 1921 quote by a few years, it is not clear which expression came first in the spoken word. Was it that in the wind came first in meaning ‘drunk’ and the three sheets came later. Or was it that three sheets in the wind came first and in the wind was a later abbreviation?]]

<1821 “Old Wax and Bristles is about THREE SHEETS IN THE WIND.”—Real Life by Egan, I. xxiii. page 385>

<1924 “Wolf replenished his glass at the request of Mr. Blust, who, instead of being ONE SHEET IN THE WIND, was likely to get to three before he took his departure.”—The Fisher's Daughter, by Catherine Ward, page426>

<1835 “The anger of those who were what is termed ‘A LITTLE IN THE WIND,’ was now roused.”—Court Magazine, VI. page 197/2>

<1840 “I'm NOT IN THE WIND, at all events, for you see I'm perfectly sober.”—Poor Jack by Frederick Marryat, xlvii>

<1840 “He . .. seldom went up to the town without coming down ‘THREE SHEETS IN THE WIND.’”—Two Years Before the Mast by R. H. Dana, xx>

<1862 “A thought tipsy—a SHEET OR SO IN THE WIND, as folks say.”—Orley Farm by Trollope, lvii>

<1883 “Maybe you think we were all a SHEET IN THE WIND’S EYE.”—Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, IV. xx>

<1891 “ . . . the reporters of the aforementioned associations must have been about THREE SHEETS IN THE WIND and minus their sea legs and nautical vision.”—New York Times, 12 September, page 5>

<1902 “One of our boatswain's mates went on shore at this place . .. and got his ‘pots on’, or became as you might say, ‘THREE SHEETS IN THE WIND.’”—“Our Naval Apprentice[/i], April, page 15>

<1940 “That reminded [him] of one of his buddies, THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND, tried to get a cow aboard submarine . . .”—Ogden Standard-Examiner (Utah), page 16>

<1967 “‘When are you going to stop prettying up the heroes of the church so that people will know what kind of men they were?" demanded Lay Faculty Member Joe Pierce at one seminar. ‘Martin Luther? He was THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND on German beer a good part of the time.”—Time Magazine, 17 March>

<1981 “The heat is hellish enough to make men desperate: Catherine's father, THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND and cursed with perennial bad luck, stakes his daughter against the chance for a blast from the North Pole – the meat locker in which Joseph keeps his sausage chilled.”—New York TImes, 12 July> [[book review of The Butcher Won a Wife by Francine Prose)“

<1999 “[[Gov. Jesse Ventura]] managed to sound half-smart about a third of the time, his approval ratings turned THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND and have stayed that way ever since. His success has been discouraging to people in politics . . .”—Time Magazine>

<2008 “Confidential magazine once ran a story about Mitchum [[actor Robert, 1917-1997]] turning up at a fancy-dress party THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND, stripping off, covering his bits in ketchup, and claiming, ‘I'm a hamburger!’”—Telegraph.co.uk, 4 May>
THREE SHEETS IN THE WIND was an expression that was undeniably widely used among sailors. So where did they get it? Prof. Singleton, would have us believe that seafarers had to have picked it up from the massive numbers of windmill keepers (the fellows who milled grain) they interacted with (or from folks they interacted with who interacted with windmill keepers), despite the fact that sailors would probably never have called a sail a ‘sheet,’ because in their jargon, it was a “rope.”And sailors would have undoubtedly left it it to windmillers and other duffers to make such a fuax pas. But even these millers, I learned, probably wouldn’t have called a ‘sail’ a ‘sheet,’ since that usage was chiefly left to poets (unless we had windmillers poets) (<;). According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

4) SHEET A sail. Chiefly poetic.
<1637 “A deeper Sea I now perforce must saile, And lay my SHEATS ope to a freer gale.”—Pleasant Dialogues and by Thomas Heywood, page 210>

<1666 “Their folded SHEETS dismiss the useless Air.”—Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, lvi>

<1712 “The Boat was push'd off, the SHEET was spread.”—T. Parnell in The Spectator by T. Parnell, No. 501, §3>

<1725 “With speed the mast they rear, with speed unbind The spacious SHEET, and stretch it to the wind.”—translation of Homer's Odyssey by Alexander Pope, II. page 465>
And it appears that on those occasions when sailors did want to connect inebriation with a ‘sail’ they usually used the word cloth as in the following expression:

TO SHAKE (HAVE) A CLOTH IN THE WIND slang: To get too near to the wind, so that the sails shiver; figuratively to be ragged in clothing; to be slightly intoxicated. (cf. ‘to be three sheets in the wind’). [[remember that cf. just means take a look at and ‘compare to,’ not ‘it is a synonym’]]
<1833 “I found all my family well and hearty; but they all SHOOK A CLOTH IN THE WIND with respect to toggery.”—Peter Simple Frederick Marryat, xxxix> [[had ragged clothing]]
<1836 “As the seamen say, they all had GOT A CLOTH IN THE WIND—the captain two or three.”—Rattlin the Reefer by E. Howard, xliii> [[tale of the sea – a ‘reefer’ was the name for midshipmen who were sent aloft to the ‘tops’ (a platform at the head of each of the lower masts of a ship) to supervise the operation of ‘reefing’ (the ‘reef’– that horizontal portion of a sail that can be rolled or folded up in order to reduce the amount of canvas exposed to the wind]]
So, I think that it would be passing strange (a.k.a. probably total bullshit) – although not impossible – that seafaring men would adopt in one of their expressions, the word SHEETS for the word SAILS (Ye Gods and little fishes, man!), used by those massively influential (especially to sailors) windmillers (who might have used the word 'sheets' for sails) and occasionally by professional poets, professional windmiller-poets, as well as by amateur poets, and amateur windmiller-poets, and their close friends who picked it up from them, and landlubbers out for a Sunday sail on the local reservoir.

I'm going to make an attempt to contact Prof. Singleton and ask him how he reached his conclusion. Who knows, maybe I'll find out that I am full of wind (which I may be in any case). (<:)
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Ken – October 3, 2008
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Phil White » Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:34 am

The agreement of the experts is overwhelming (I said as much above), but the number still bugs me. Remember, we're assuming that the expression comes from bow-legged, shanty-singing tars who served on serious sailing ships. (I mean the really big buggers with 4+ masts.) A 4-master would have upwards of 25 sheets (possibly upwards of 26, depending on how the gaff was rigged. But any sail would have only 2 sheets (possibly 1 for the gaff). There are a number of different ropes used to attach the sails to the yards, but none of them are sheets; clewlines, buntlines, gaskets and god-knows-what, but not sheets. The sail would not flap wildly if one or both of the sheets broke loose on a sail (it's still attached to the yard), but the ship would become difficult to control if a significant number broke loose. The ones under strain (on a square-rigged ship) are the ones to windward, but even if all 3 (sometimes more) windward sheets on a single mast failed, a 4-master would not be in huge difficulty, nor would it be all that difficult to control. It would merely lose way.

If the explanation is so eminently clear to everyone, how the hell does a number that makes little sense get in there?
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Oct 03, 2008 12:17 pm

Phil, I really don’t know much about these things, but why do you assume that the expression had to come with big ships with 4+ masts? Why couldn’t it have arisen earlier and why did it have to be a square-rigged ship? My reference (2) above, under SHEET says:
SHEET: A rope attached to either of the lower corners (clews) of a square sail or the boom or after lower corner (clew) of a fore-and-aft sail and used to extend the sail or to alter its direction. To sheet home is to haul in a sheet until the foot of a sail is as straight and as taut as possible.
Doesn’t “or after lower corner (clew) of a fore-and-aft sail” also allow for a non-square-rigger or a smaller square-rigger? The first European square-riggers had only one mast, and then there were 2 and then there were 3 . . . How many SHEETS could a one-mast square-rigger (or one mast on a larger square-rigger) have or even a fore-and-aft vessel have? And if an even number was ever the norm on any mast or multiple masts, perhaps the number 3 or 7 (which I have also seen used for ‘drunk’) denoted something abnormal. The word SHEET for a rope that controls a sail has been in use since the late 13th century. European square-riggers came into their own in the 19th century. But seems like there might have been plenty of opportunity for the word to be invented before the day of the 4-masted square-rigger.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 04, 2008 2:14 am

With all the riders about the first written evidence being later than the actual introduction of a phrase, your dates (1821 onwards) put it firmly in the era of the great sailing ships.

The only type of ship for which "3 sheets in the wind" would present a major problem would be something like a brigantine (a two-master, one mast square rigged, the mizzen mast fore-and-aft rigged). The number of sheets per mast varies, but it would be usual on a classically rigged ship to have sheets only for the mainsail and the lower and upper main topsails (i.e. 2x 3 sheets). The topgallants and royals would be controlled by the "braces". "Sheets" is also the term sometimes used for the ropes (2 per sail) used to secure the clews of the topgallants and royals to the yards below (failure of these would cause the sail to flap uselessly), but the loss of topgallants or royals would not be enough to destabilize the ship provided the main and/or main tops are set.

But on anything more than a brigantine, we are talking about at least 7 windward sheets.

If you go back another century to the grand old ships of the line, such as HMS Victory, the rigging is far less complex than on the far later clippers or windjammers that I was admittedly thinking of. Yet even there, we are talking a bare minimum of 7.

I'm no great expert, but I believe that very few sails are required to stabilize a full-rigged (square-rigged on all masts) ship. Only a catastrophic failure of virtually all the running rigging would seriously destabilize such a vessel.

I still can't see it, but I have to say that the windmill idea is even less appetizing. I'm probably simply being too literal.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by russcable » Sat Oct 04, 2008 6:45 am

Even in the "Era of Great Sailing Ships", there were probably a hundred little fishing vessels and pleasure craft for every "Great Sailing Ship". Your assumtion is like saying phrases about motor vehicles can only come from the drivers of big trucks, e.g. 4 wheels must be wrong because big trucks have 18 wheels.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 04, 2008 7:05 am

Granted (and already tacitly acknowledged above), but even of these, only a tiny proportion would be in difficulties after the loss of three sheets, namely those flying exactly three sails. No more, no less. This could perhaps include a cutter, a ketch and a brigantine.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by TomT » Wed Jun 30, 2010 3:14 pm

Maybe the authorities are in total agreement, but the explanations sound implausible in some details, at least to this sailor.

A sailing ship will not wallow around "like a drunken sailor" just because some sails are out of control. It will lose some way, which is different. This is just a fantasy of landlubber etymologists, repeated over and over again, which does not make it so.

A loose sheet is pretty hazardous in any kind of wind. It will lash about over the deck. Sails with loose sheets will flog and damage themselves. It would be a very serious emergency on deck to have a loose sheet, implying risk to lives and gear. Sailors would be struggling to get the errant line under control; officers would be shouting, and it would all be very dangerous and difficult, because you can't just grab on to the flailing line. Sails are very, very expensive items of gear on board, now as then, and the whole crew would be struggling to prevent destroying one, while trying to avoid having a crew member losing an arm (or a head) to the whiplashing sheet. The mainsail on my boat, which is obviously much smaller than the square-rigged ships of yore, costs $10,000. It would be completely destroyed in just a few minutes of flogging out of control in a stiff wind.

Square-riggers' square sails have only two sheets each, so why three sheets to the wind? What is the significance of the number? I cannot imagine. It has nothing to do with the number of masts, as commonly suggested. A three-masted ship will have at least eight square rigged sails besides its fore-and-aft rigged spanker and its jibs and staysails. Three loose sheets, or four loose sheets, or two, will hardly make a difference in the way the ship sails. It is hard to imagine any rig where three loose sheets is exactly the critical number. A ship with only three sails with a sheet loose on each of them will have bigger problems than losing way. The situation is also completely improbable.

I can only guess -- and this is just as guess -- that the expression really simply means something like being out of control -- one gets drunk and sloppy and one's "sheets begin to come loose", one by one. At some point it gets so bad that you've got, metaphorically speaking, three of them flying around in the wind; i.e. you've really gone totally out of control. It would have nothing to do with the motion of the ship; it would have to do with the kind of total chaos on deck which would result from multiple loose sheets. Ship as a metaphor for the sailor, but not in the way commonly explained. No significance to the number three other than its not just one emergency on deck, but triple trouble.

That would seem kind of plausible to me, but again, it's a pure guess on my part. Still, it's kind of an odd metaphor -- being drunk is not really so much like chaos and panic. I would not be surprised if the real origin of the phrase is something completely different.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by TomT » Wed Jun 30, 2010 3:35 pm

Archived Reply wrote:this is a nautical phrase.Paradoxically,sheets on a masted ship actually refer to the ropes that control the sails, not the sails themselves. each sail was tethered to four ropes(sheets).If one or more of the sheets was not secured, the sail would become useless or unmanageable.if you were three sheets to the wind,you only had one left.this was quite a precarious situation.Four sheets to the wind and you were most probably going to lose the sail and shhets.I found this in both books that I own on terms that have come from the maritime world.thanks,jim cookn.sa
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Indeed not. This explanation is a complete landlubber's fantasy and nonsense. A fore-and-aft rigged sail (like the sails on modern yachts) has one sheet (only one corner of such a sail being loose); a square-rigged sail has two, not four sheets. The head (the top edge) of a square-rigged sail is attached to a horizontal wooden pole called a yard; the yard is controlled not by sheets but by lines called braces and tacks. "Sheet" does not refer to any rope on a ship, but rather, specifically, to those lines which control the clews -- that is, the loose corners -- of sails.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Phil White » Wed Jun 30, 2010 3:50 pm

I think you will find that I already pointed this out in a couple of my postings on this thread.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by TomT » Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:16 pm

Phil White wrote:I think you will find that I already pointed this out in a couple of my postings on this thread.
That sails have a maximum of two sheets each? Yes, you did.

Here is a good description of the rigging of a square-rigged ship:

http://sailing-ships.oktett.net/square-rigging.html

In some cases only the lowermost square-rigged sails -- the courses -- actually have sheets; the clews of higher sails are sometimes attached directly to the yard below. I guess it is possible to imagine a three-masted ship with one sheet out of control on each course, so all of the courses flogging. The ship itself would still not be out of control, as you pointed out, because the other sails should still be in control, since all the yards are all controlled by braces and tacks. But maybe that is a whimsical idea of a ship with total chaos on deck; all the courses flogging because of loose sheets.

Still kind of bothers me, however.
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by zmjezhd » Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:34 pm

Some interesting entries from The Sailor's Word-Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms (1867) by Admiral W H Smyth, revised by Vice-Admiral Sir E Belcher (link):
Both sheets aft The situation of a square-rigged ship that sails before the wind, or with the wind right astern. It is also said of a half-drunken sailor rolling alongwith his hands in his pockets and his elbows square. (p.121)

Sheet A rope or chain fastened to one or both of the lower corners of a sail, to extend or retain a clue down to its place. When a ship sails with a side wind, the lower corners of the main and fore sails are fastened by a tack and a sheet, the former bcing to windward, and the latter to leeward; the tack is, however, only disused with a stern wind, whereas the sail is never spread without the assistance of one or both of the sheets; the stay-sails and studding-sails nave only one tack and one sheet each; the staysail-tacks are fastened forward, and the sheets drawn aft; but the studding-sail tacks draw to the extremity of the boom, while the sheet is employed to extend the inner corner. (p.613)

Sheet in the wind Half-intoxicated; as the sail trembles and is unsteady, so is a drunken man. (p.614)

Three sheets in the wind Unsteady from drink. (p.680)
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:52 pm

Isn't it just an expression?

"Albert is as pissed as a newt". I admit that I do not spend my time face down in bogs looking for amphibians, but I am pretty sure that I have never seen a pissed newt.

“Joe is legless” Well if he is, what are those things between his feet and his arse?
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
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Re: three sheets to the wind

Post by TomT » Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:02 pm

Bobinwales wrote:Isn't it just an expression?

"Albert is as pissed as a newt". I admit that I do not spend my time face down in bogs looking for amphibians, but I am pretty sure that I have never seen a pissed newt.

“Joe is legless” Well if he is, what are those things between his feet and his arse?
Yes, it's just an expression, of course. That's why I start to come to the conclusion that the number of sheets mentioned is merely whimsical. Still it's very interesting to try to understand the origin of the expression.
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