Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Johnny Bond – "Three Sheets in the Wind" (1963)

I bought me a boat
Nine cases of gin
Now I’m sailin’ high
Three sheets in the wind

Enville is a small unincorporated community in located just north of Lake Texoma (which divides Oklahoma from Texas).

The story goes that Enville’s name is a contraction of the phrase, “End-of-the-road-ville.”  I don’t know if that’s true, but I hope it is.

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The most famous native of Enville was Cyrus Whitfield “Johnny” Bond (1915-1978), a country-western singer and movie star who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame 1999.

When I was in college in the early seventies, I won a copy of The Best of Johnny Bond by calling into the college radio station and answering a trivia question.

(The price was right!)
I had never heard of the guy – I was not at all into country music in my college days – but I really enjoyed his album, which consisted mostly of songs about cars (like “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “The Great Figure Eight Race”) and songs about drinking (including “Sick, Sober and Sorry,” “Ten Little Bottles,” and today’s featured song, “Three Sheets in the Wind”).

Sadly, the album did not include his #5 hit single from 1947, “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed.”

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How did “Three Sheets in the Wind” come to be used to describe someone who is very inebriated??  

From The Word Detective:

The first example of “three sheets to the wind” found in print so far is from 1821 (in the form “three sheets in the wind”), but the expression is almost certainly much older. . . .

Nine out of ten urban legends about the origins of words or phrases erroneously trace them to seafaring traditions and the age of tall ships.  There’s even an acronym for the folks who propagate this nonsense: CANOE (Committee to Assign a Nautical Origin to Everything).  But “three sheets to the wind” really does have a nautical origin.  The “sheets” in the phrase are the lines (ropes) that hold a sail in place.  If one of the “sheets” . . . comes loose, the sail flaps in the wind and causes the ship to lose power.  If two sheets are loose and fluttering in the wind (or “to the wind”), you’re in major trouble, and “three sheets in the wind” means the ship is uncontrollable, reeling like a drunken sailor. . . .

But there’s an alternate explanation as well, as this excerpt from a 1994 letter to the editor of the New York Times explains:

An inebriated person is often said to be a certain number of sheets to the wind.  Uncertain whether this is three or four, you still suggest that the expression comes from sailing.  Many have drawn this connection, because the line, or rope, controlling the trim of a sail on a sailboat is called a sheet.

The true origin of "three sheets to the wind" was disclosed to me by a Nantucket sailor. . . .

The old Dutch-style windmill on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, which is still grinding cornmeal for the tourists, has four wooden vanes to which are attached four sails -- or more properly, sheets.  If the miller leaves one off, only three are presented to the wind.

The mechanism is then severely out of balance, and in a fresh breeze the entire structure of the mill goes into a violent and potentially destructive shudder, evoking the image of a staggering drunk.

Letting go a sailboat's sheet to flap in the wind usually gets the skipper out of trouble by causing the boat to come up into the wind on an even keel -- the opposite of the metaphor intended.

That certainly clears things up, doesn’t it?

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Here’s Johnny Bond’s recording of “Three Sheets in the Wind” which has a 3/4 time signature:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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