Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Episode 84: Three Sheets In The Wind Show Notes

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Bunny Trails

Episode 84: Three Sheets in the Wind

Record Date: July 7, 2020

Air Date: July 8, 2020


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh

Each week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today. 

We are talking about an alcohol themed phrase this week, but we keep it clean enough to avoid the explicit tag.


OED:   three sheets in the wind: very drunk.

We will see many examples of one sheet in the wind, but there are many other examples I’ve seen, including  two sheets in the wind, two and a half, four, seven, and even ten. The number of sheets may have a logical reason and we’ll that in a minute. 

I’ve also see the preposition “in” replaced with “to” in many instances, so three sheets to the wind. But there doesn’t appear to be any intention behind the way “in” or “to” are used.

But first, the nautical “sheet”, according to the OED, is A rope (or chain) attached to either of the lower corners of a square sail (or the after lower corner of a fore-and-aft sail), and used to extend the sail or to alter its direction.   false sheet n. see quot. 1644.

See also fore-sheet n. 1, jib-sheet (jib-sheet n. at jib n.1 Compounds), mainsheet n. 1.

Poetical and Prose Works, Travels and Remarks, of John Gerrond ...

By John Gerrond · 1812

The first attestation for Three Sheets, according to the OED,

1821   Pierce Egan, Real Life of London i. xviii. 385   Old Wax and Bristles is about three sheets in the wind.

According to:

The Progressive Dictionary of the English Language

A Supplementary Wordbook to All Leading Dictionaries of the United States and Great Britain

By Samuel Fallows · 1835

The amount of sheets was a rating scale.

1862   Anthony Trollope Orley Farm II. xvii. 135   Snow père might be a thought tipsy—a sheet or so in the wind, as folks say.


I found an interesting story of how the phrase came to be from the Wikitionary site, but they only cited one work, 

The Sailor's Word-book

An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, Including Some More Especially Military and Scientific ... as Well as Archaisms of Early Voyagers, Etc

By William Henry Smyth, Sir Edward Belcher · 1867

And in reading that book, I did not find it to say what they said that it said. And in some cases, the book even contradicted what was posted. So I’m not going to include the story here. But you can search it if you wish. I did, however, find the book defined Sheet in the Wind:

One of the more popular quotes is from a book many of us have read, Robert Louis Stevensons book Treasure Island. In it he pairs the sheets concept with another concept, in the wind’s eye, which meant to be going directly into the wind. 

1883   R. L. Stevenson Treasure Island iv. xx. 161   Maybe you think we were all a sheet in the wind's eye. But I'll tell you I was sober.

This one was used numerous times from 1911 to 1916 in a variety of newspapers. In today’s world, think of it as a social media post that gets picked up and reposted over and over again. 

This from the Wilmington Morning Star...

A Quick Thank You

This week’s episode is sponsored by our Patrons, with special thanks to our Logomorphology Interns Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. Your support makes Bunny Trails happen week after week. 

All of our patrons get access to a monthly bonus episode, as well as behind the scenes chats with Shauna and I. But best of all, our Patrons get to know they are helping provide a safe place for your brain for 30 minutes every week. You can find more at

Pop Culture and Modern Examples

Three Sheets to the Wind: One Man's Quest for the Meaning of Beer Paperback – April 28, 2008

by Pete Brown  (Author)

Meet Pete Brown—beer journalist, beer drinker, and author of an irreverent book about British beer, Man Walks Into A Pub. One day, Pete's world is rocked when he discovers several countries produce, consume, and celebrate beer far more than the British do. The Germans claim they make the best beer in the world, the Australians consider its consumption a patriotic duty, the Spanish regard lager as a trendy youth drink and the Japanese have built a skyscraper in the shape of a foaming glass of their favorite brew. At home, meanwhile, people seem to be turning their backs on the great British pint. What's going on? Drinking in more than 300 bars in 27 towns, through 13 different countries and four continents, Pete puts on 10 pounds and does irrecoverable damage to his health in the pursuit of saloon-bar enlightenment.

Song - Three Sheets to the Wind by Saxon off the album Battering Ram

Saxon is an English heavy metal band formed in 1977. I got some serious AC/DC style vibes off of this song. The chorus goes…

More wine, more beer

We got to make a move

To make it out of here

We couldn't walk, we couldn't talk

We were three sheets to wind

Sandie Jones is a NYTimes best setting author of The Other Woman

Sandie Jones


How many 'sheets to the wind' are you when you're drunk? I've always thought ten, but have discovered it could also be two or three? Which term is the most commonly known? #amwriting

8:19 AM · Jul 7, 2020·Twitter Web App

Wrap up...

Drinking phrases are always fun for me, because they are some of the easiest to change and mix up. Mixing metaphors with drinking idioms is easy to do and most native speakers still understand the connotation. And if done responsibility, drinking can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. I would caution though, whether or not the phrase “Drink like a sailor” is accurate or not, I recommend moderation. So maybe shoot for One sheet to the wind, and definitely not three or four sheets. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. If you like the show, please leave a review on your podcasting app, or tell your friends about the show on social media. Word of mouth is the best way to build an audience.


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 

Words belong to their users.

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