The Third Degree
Mental or physical torture used to obtain information or a confession from a prisoner
Torture is back in vogue these days so it's best to be prepared when this phrases comes up in conversation. Most people associate giving someone the third degree with cops beating the christ out of a prisoner to get information or a confession. Also, the phrase might conjure up images of a kid in the 50's saying "Heck Pa, quit giving me the third degree already. I didn't break Mrs. Sampson's window." Man, people back then talked like assholes, huh?
Anyway, even though we associate the term third degree
with some sort of criminal justice its origins have nothing to do with law, they have to do with an secret order founded long ago. The Priory of Sion was established...Just kidding, the phrase originated with The Masons, who used to be comprised of actual stonemasons and were nothing more than an influential trade guild. Now they have lodges and won't let my neighbor in because his grandfather may have been a Jew. But that's neither here nor there.
According to Masonic customs there are three levels to membership: the kind your dad is, the kind your grandpa is and the kind your family isn't wealthy enough to be. These stages are called the first, second and third degrees. Before one can be elevated to the third degree he must undergo a harrowing evaluation during which he is tested and quizzed and, maybe, beaten with the carcass of a deceased animal covered in chalk...maybe. Anyway, the general public co-opted this piece of Masonic tradition and applied it to any situation where one is being grilled for information. Thus getting the third degree
Third Degree Stonemasons practicing their ancient craft.
PS: DO NOT Google image search the term 'third degree'. Aside from pictures of burn victims, 'third degree' is also a kind of hemorrhoid. You've been warned.