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What Does “3 Sheets to the Wind” Really Mean?

“John was completely sloshed last night. He totally tossed his cookies and needed to call a cab home. He was so 3 sheets to the wind he could barely stand.”

Three sheets to the wind is a common phrase we often use to refer to someone’s drunken state. The word has a connotation to mean a person is having a difficult time controlling their faculties, such as John who could barely stand last night. This phrase, while maybe not as popular in usage today as “get slizzard”, “get wasted”, “get sloshed”, or “get hammered”, but it is still a fairly common phrase used to refer to a drunk person. At Hangover Hospital, we did some digging into the term, how “3 sheets to the wind” came into our vocabulary, and what it really means.

So, 3 Sheets to the Wind Means Drunk, Right?

Yes. According to our favorite source for lexical clarification, UrbanDictionary.com, 3 sheets to the wind has come to mean a state of explicit drunkenness. The “explicit” part is important to understanding the severity of 3 sheets to the wind, as it often refers to more than being unable to drive home. The phrase is usually used for people who have drunk so much that they begin losing their balance, fine motor skills, and ability to even walk. Three sheets to the wind can be used generally, too, to reference anyone who is drunk. It just usually has a heavier connotation than being regularly drunk.

Where Did It Come From?

This particular expression, 3 sheets to the wind, has a very interesting history. In the 1800s, large sailing and cargo ships used a mast and large, heavy sheets to utilize the wind to steer the ship. There were usually three corners on the sheet tied down by sturdy ropes which helped maneuver the ship. If one of the corners’ ropes was slack, it caused the ship to tilt to one side. If two ropes were slack, the ship would begin to wobble from side to side. If all three ropes were slack, the sheet would be at the mercy of the wind and the whole ship would be uncontrollably wobbly.

This is how we know that 3 sheets to the wind refers to an overly inebriated person – they are uncontrollably wobbly and unable to gain stability of their faculties, much like a ship without its sails secured. This particular phrase is, therefore, interesting because even though we don’t use cargo ships like they did in the 1800s, the phrase has stuck around and we still use it to refer to really drunk people.

There may come a day when it is completely lost from our vocabulary, but for now, just remember to tie down those sheets. If you feel shipwrecked after a night of drinking, call us at Hangover Hospital. We know how to alleviate the symptoms of your hangover in less than an hour through intravenous antioxidant and hydration therapies. Simply call us when you are in Key West and we will come right to you to relieve your hangover symptoms.