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packed in like sardines

Extremely crowded, as in I could barely breathe—we were packed in like sardines. This term, alluding to how tightly sardines are packed in cans, has been applied to human crowding since the late 1800s.

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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.