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at close quarters

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Crowded, in a confined space, as in We could use a lot more room; this tiny office puts us at close quarters. This idiom makes figurative use of quarters in the sense of “military lodgings” but originated in 18th-century naval warfare. When the enemy boarded a ship, the crew would retreat behind wooden barriers erected for this purpose and would continue to fire through loopholes. They thus were very near the enemy, fighting in close quarters. [c. 1800]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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