like sardines in a can

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Feb 12 22:45:54 UTC 2005

With reference to the NYC subway, I have only heard, "We were packed like sardines."  From 1950s at least.


Barnhart <barnhart at HIGHLANDS.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Barnhart
Subject: like sardines in a can

OED: 1911 packed like sardines in a box

OED: 1922 [Dialect Notes] However, if one fishes around in the electronic
edition, there is _packed like sardines_ in Harper's Magazine (April 1887).

But, I stumbled across the following:

We passed a most miserable night. We lay down as best we could, and were
packed like sardines in a box. All wanted to sleep; but if one man moved,
he woke half a dozen others, who again in waking roused all the rest; so
seelp was, like our supper, onlyu to be enjoyed in imagination, and aall
we could do was to wait intently for daylight.
J.D. Borthwick, _To California Via Panama_, London: 1857, in _Pictures of
Gold Rush California_, Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1949, Chapter 2 p 49

For me, sardines come packed in a can. So, the expression ought to read
for modern contexts "[packed] like sardines in a can." It's not in OED.

The earliest quote I've found so far for this is:

"Butrning cotton is one of the most stubborn fires to extinguish," said
assistant fire chief W.B. Cooper. "And that boxcar was packed like
sardines in a can." _Daily Journal_ [Commerce, Texas], Sept. 16, 1957, p 1


barnhart at

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