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Can anybody explain what exactly a "sardine box" is ?

Here are a few usage examples:

"sardine boxes take us from here to there"

"the motorized sardine box"

It obviously refers to a vehicle, but how does it look like ?

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    Sardines are packed closely together in cans; used figuratively a 'sardine box' is any vehicle which is designed to carry people crowded together. Aug 10, 2019 at 10:48
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    Could you show where you've seen the term "sardine box" actually used? Is it possibly a (mis)translation? Because I have never heard or seen it. It's always a sardine CAN, as in Hot Licks' answer.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 11, 2019 at 4:58
  • I can't quickly find online references. But in the context of motorcyclism (?), I've seen this used the same way as "cager". In France/Portugal, and I remember it being used in the cycling comics Joe Bar Team (French).
    – ANeves
    Aug 13, 2019 at 14:36

2 Answers 2

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This is a sardine can/tin: enter image description here Before the advent of tin cans folks apparently used "boxes" made of ceramic. But the term "box" is still used by some people to describe the above.

You can see how the metaphor might be used to describe people jammed tightly together.

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    Resulting in this. Aug 10, 2019 at 11:59
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    Ideally Hot Licks's answer showing how the idiom of the sardine can originated and @user067531's answer with the dictionary definitions and usage examples could be combined into one thorough and canonical answer.
    – arp
    Aug 11, 2019 at 2:42
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    According to majolicasociety.com/sardine-boxes sardine boxes came after the cans and were used for serving not storage. You need canning to preserve sardines, just putting them in a rectangular ceramic box is not enough. Aug 11, 2019 at 10:16
  • @PeteKirkham I'd post that as an answer, including a pic as it shows what a ceramic sardine box looked like. They looked dinky and...a bit tacky.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 12, 2019 at 8:44
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    Sardine boxes made of wood are way older than sardine cans (or the mentioned ceramic sardine boxes). Wooden sardine boxes were used (and still are) to store salted or brined sardines. They were firmly packed. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2e/…
    – roetnig
    Aug 12, 2019 at 9:26
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Sardine can:

(US) a small car.

  • (1920) Eve. Capital News (Boise, ID) 4 Jan. 33/1: ‘Some sardine can you’re driving, Jeff’.

(GDoS)

The idea is that of a small space stacked with things or people like in:

be packed (in) like sardines:

To be very tightly or snugly packed together, especially in a small space.

  • We didn't want to take more than one car, so we had to be packed like sardines in Jeff's little sedan for the four-hour drive to Moab.

(MacGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.)

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    Ideally @Hot Licks's answer showing how the idiom of the sardine can originated and user067531's answer with the dictionary definitions and usage examples could be combined into one thorough and canonical answer.
    – arp
    Aug 11, 2019 at 2:41
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    @arp that's not how it works here. Users post answers if they feel their contribution is helpful. The two answers complement one another. If you want, you can post a third answer which adds any additional information.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 11, 2019 at 9:16
  • @Mari-LouA I think that's why he said "Ideally". In an ideal world, there would be one answer that included the information from both. As is, it's hard to pick one answer over the other as "the" selected answer.
    – chepner
    Aug 11, 2019 at 13:42

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