In an allusion to Dave Starr’s magnificent¹ cover art, I had the opportunity to use its title idiomatically, and said:
“The closer the bone, the sweeter the meat.” … and was promptly corrected: “Nearer.” That kept me wondering:
In what semantic instances do we have to specifically use ‘closer’ or ‘nearer’ respectively?
For ‘near’ as well as ‘close’, there are plenty of non-specific and/or interchangeable uses (e.g. “a near/close friend”, “stay near/close”), but also definite distinctions (e.g. “close/near quarters”). Consequently at least, we could say “We’re close to/near the bone”, couldn’t we?
There is also a question here asking about differences of the adjectives themselves, which I couldn’t apply to the construct in question (adverbial comparative with ‘the’)—it’s all about physical distance.
Curiously, the digram suggestes a transition in frequency by 1947, lacking explanation of course.