Years ago, while working with several very conservative lawyers and one very conservative client, we used to have weekly meetings. The client's wife would often join. This beautiful woman with her fun and outspoken personality, did not adhere to the preferences of most of the men in the room. One irritant (besides her fun and outspoken personality) was her tendency to be late. The meeting was the same time, the same day, of every week. Yet, she could never be on time. And because our client came from his office, and she came from their home, they never traveled to this meeting together. In addition to the nonstop tardiness, she always proffered excuses galore, typically traffic-related.
One day, she came in. Late. Offering the excuse of not only traffic but a road block. As as she launched into a comical tale (comical only to me) about the road related shenanigans, she also said, “AND in addition to all of that, I am three sheets to the wind!”
It instantly became library silent in the room.
The meeting progressed but for some reason, she interjected on three other occasions that she was three sheets to the wind. The uncomfortable glances in the room were thick. My General Counsel frowning from eyebrow to neck.
After the meeting, we both happened to step into the ladies room. I asked her if she was ok, and she smiled and laughed her reply that of course, another day, another meeting. Because she is sassy, and so am I, I told her that X,Y, and Z had likely never heard someone say they were “three sheets to the wind” in a meeting before. She laughed and said, "Well, you know what I mean, a bit scattered." My eyes must have widened (because I do NOT have a poker face) because she then asked “Isn’t that what three sheets to the wind means?”
Me: It might but that’s not how I have typically heard it used.
Her: Well, what does it mean, then?
Few second pause.
Her words exactly: Well, sh*t.
And then she laughed. Which made me laugh. And then she said, “Oh well, at least they can’t accuse me of lacking a personality.”
Well behaved women rarely make history as it is said. She is fabulous proof in point.
So later, I had to determine the origin of this phrase. I found this:
Taken from sailing a square-rigged sailboat; square sails had four sheets (the ropes attached to the corners of the sail) to control them. If one or even two sheets went "to the wind" (meaning flapping in the breeze and hard to retrieve) the boat was still quasi-controllable. However, if a third sheet was lost to the wind, you had no way to fill your sail and were essentially uncontrollable.
So in a way, maybe she was right. And it is a meeting I have never forgot. And was likely proof that every other meeting I had that year certainly lacked personality. Although, I am not certain my General Counsel would agree. But that is likely because my General Counsel had probably never been three sheets to the wind.