I am unable to find the meaning of the following phrase: "the closely written letters" (or sheets, or pages).

Within were a number of closely-written sheets of paper and some letters, most of which were addressed to...

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    Can you provide more context? Is there a larger paragraph or sentence that you took this fragment from and could add to your question?
    – mjjf
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 6:42
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    @mjjf Right, updated. There is no further context - a person found a box, and then the paragraph above follows.
    – John V
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 7:02
  • Hmmm, that's a tough one. I've never heard of that before. My first guess is that the writing is cramped on the page, meaning that the words are close together with little whitespace to provide separation. Another thought is that the meaning is similar to holding something "close to your heart" meaning that it is precious to you. Perhaps the contents of the writings are personally significant to the writer.
    – mjjf
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 7:07
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    @mjjf I'm certain it is the former. At one time, mailing of letters was charged for by the sheet, so people wrote very closely so as to get as much as possible in one page, sometimes even writing more lines at right angles across the first ones. Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 8:17

1 Answer 1


"Closely written" has a literal and figurative meaning. It literally means that the letters and words have been written close together so as to pack more onto the page. Figuratively, it just means that a lot of detail is contained in a relatively small amount of writing. A comparable expression is "tightly written", which means brevity but without compromising on detail.

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    E.g. this as opposed to this.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 15:02
  • This is probably what it means, but I wouldn't consider it an idiomatic expression. I might even consider it incorrect to use the term to mean this. I would rather use "tightly-spaced" for the literal meaning and something like "detail-packed" or "information-packed" for the figurative meaning.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 15:30
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    The first (literal) meaning is quite common, or at least was in the days before everything was printed on a computer. I have never seen the term used in the figurative sense.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 15:52
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    @NotThatGuy It is what it means. And as it has a figurative meaning, it is an idiom. "Tightly written" is certainly used more but they essentially mean the same. I found loads of examples of both on Google, but as the OP contains a perfectly good example I don't see the need to link to any. Your suggestions are not idiomatic as they are all literal.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 21:16

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