Three sheets to the wind refers to an archaic nautical colloquialism, used for describing someone as completely drunk and utterly Gorked.
The phrase refers to the foolish and borderline suicidal act of letting all three sails loose amid a storm, losing control completely over the vessel and risking capsizing.
A person that is “Three sheets to the wind” drunk is similarly out of control of their actions and behavior.
Although it is not exactly clear, when the phrase was coined, it likely takes roots in the 18th century, when the United Kingdom was well on its way to establish its naval dominance over the globe.
“Three sheets to the wind” was first defined in a slang dictionary, published by John Bee, Esq. in 1823, under the title “Slang, a Dictionary of The Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, of Bon-Ton, and the Varieties of Life…”.
It was soon included in a novel, published by Mrs. Catherine G. Ward, in 1825, titled “The Fisher’s Daughter, or the Wanderings of Wolf, and the Fortunes of Alfred”.
It spread rapidly in the vulgar slang of the Anglosphere, ranging from Britain, through the Americas up until Australia, throughout the rest of the 19th century.
“Three sheets to the wind” had gotten even more attention in the 20th century, as the cultural output of the United States had begun to skyrocket, producing many works of art about drunkenness and life on the seas, including books, films, and music.
The expression was first defined on Urban Dictionary on June 3rd, 2004, with many more to follow.
Although the expression is not nearly as widespread and easily understood among a modern audience, ignorant to the practices of seafaring, it is still relatively popular and retains a large usage.