SHEET, an expanse or surface, flat and thin, of various materials ; a rope attached to a sail. These two apparently widely separated meanings are to be explained by the generally received etymology. In O. Eng. there are three words, all from the root seen in " shoot," to dart, let fly, thrust forward; scete or scyte, a sheet of cloth, sceat, corner or fold of a garment, projecting angles, region (e.g. sees scedt, portion of the sea, gulf, bay), and sceata, foot of a sail, pes veli (Wright, Gloss.). The original meaning, according to Skeat, is " projection," or that which shoots out, then a corner, especially of a garment or of a cloth; after which it was extended to mean a whole cloth or " sheet." In Icelandic, the cognate word skaut has much the same meanings, including that of a rope attached to a sail. Other cognate forms in Teutonic languages are Ger. Schoss, lap, bosom, properly fold of a garment, Dutch school, Icel. skaut, etc. In current English usage, " sheet " is commonly applied to any flat, thin surface, such as a sheet of paper, a sheet of metal, or, in a transferred application, to an expanse of water, ice, fire, etc. More specifically it is used of a rectangular piece of linen or cotton used as that part of the usual bed clothes which are next the sleeper's body. In nautical usage the term " sheet " is applied to a rope or chain attached to the lower corners of a sail for the purpose of extension or change of direction (see RIGGING). The connexion in derivation with " shoot " is clearly seen in " sheet-anchor," earlier " shoot-anchor " one that is kept in reserve, to be " shot " in case of emergency (see ANCHOR).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)