Close Quarters

This year I'm taking part in the Dog Days of Summer Podcasting Challenge, a fun little project full of interesting people who try to publish a new show every day for 30-ish days. Today is the twenty-eighth episode of the arc, and today’s phrase is one that was in use by the British military for nearly two centuries before it became part of general English.

This term has a nautical origin. In the 17th century the barriers that sailors laid across a ship's deck in order to provide a safe haven from the enemy were called close-fights. Captain John Smith, in his record of early seafaring terms, The Seaman's Grammar, 1627 was good enough to define the term. By the mid 18th century that confined defensive space became called close quarters, that is, close dwellings. Close in this context is confusing as it didn't mean near to, but was a variant of closed. Nevertheless close quarters came to mean near enough to to be able to fight hand to hand, which does match with our present day meaning of close by.

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Episode 085 Download This Episode (2.36 MB)
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