three sheets in/to the wind

three sheets in/to the wind

Drunk. The term comes from sailing ships and refers to the sheet, or rope, that controls the sail. If a sheet is allowed to flap freely in the wind, the sail also flaps about and the vessel proceeds on a tottering course, like that of an intoxicated person. The more sheets are loose, the shakier the course. Dickens used the expression figuratively in Dombey and Son (1848): “Captain Cuttle, looking . . . at Bunsby more attentively, perceived that he was three sheets in the wind, or in plain words, drunk.” The expression may be obsolescent today, at least in America.
See also: sheet, three, wind
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