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at close quarters

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