Home in / Hone in

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19 comments on this post.
  1. colleen rose:

    I beg to differ. I am 85 years old and have been using the term ‘hone in on’ for as long as I remember (yes, my long term memory is still intact.) I love words and their usage. In my opinion, ‘home in on’ looks and sounds wrong!

  2. Vicky Ayers:

    Another of those changing words that irks me is the substitution of “guide rail” for “guard rail”. Where are they guiding you? After all they eventually end, and then what, you just drive off the road, since you no longer have guidance? They are “guard rails”, dammit! They keep you from accidentally driving off into the gorge, and once you are down on the flats again, you are on your own, happily without the need for quarding OR guiding.

  3. Karen:

    My problem with “hone in on” is that it’s so clearly a corruption of “home in on,” since there is no literal “hone in” that can serve as the basis for the figurative meaning. After all, “to home in on” a beacon is a well-established expression with a clear literal meaning, and the same phrase can be applied figuratively as in “home in on the answer”. By contrast, when do we ever speak of “honing in on a knife”? Or “honing in” a pair of scissors? Since there’s no literal meaning of “hone in on” or even “hone in,” the phrase makes sense only as a mixture of “hone” and “home in on,” and in that case, I’d rather stick with the original, unadulterated expression, “home in on.”

  4. kidvermicious:

    I don’t know why other people being dumb makes me mad. But they do. They should stop it.

  5. gurujake:

    What bothers me is probably the same as that which bothers Karen about the use of “hone in,” rather than “home in.” There’s no logic to it, and to use the former indicates a lack of awareness of this. What bothers me even more is observing people make the same mistakes that I made have made a few decades ago when I would use unexamined turns of phrase incorrectly. The idea that my own self-correction is lost on the masses makes my very existence seem futile! Perhaps I should lighten up . . .

  6. Harriett:

    I cannot find a verb “to home ” / “home in on” in any dictionary that I have consulted but there is a verb “HONE”. I know it means “Sharpen” but could it mean Sharpen your focus ??’

  7. misha:

    Harriett, I will try to home in on my point. Eh, what was I saying? I need to sharpen my focus, or should I say hone my focus? Hone my point? I lost my homing beacon and I can’t find my way…Use the one you think works best, or like William Shakespeare, invent a word where one does not yet exist. I have to admit to being as much of a curmudgeon about proper grammar as the next grammar guru; however, this seems a lot like Camelot in Quest for the Holy Grail, “‘Tis a silly thing.”

  8. Jason Doucette:

    > Oh, correct, shmorrect. Whatever floats your boat, I say. It’s a lovely day and I have cats to herd. If you’re really worried about being “correct,” …

    Um… yeah. That’s why were here.

    Thanks for the information, but I almost didn’t read it, since I wasn’t sure how long you were going to avoid answering the question. I’d suggest throw a quick answer out fast, and then explain. That way everyone is happy, and people who want to know why will keep reading. I wish everyone did, but some people are busy / lazy.

    Cheers,
    Jason

  9. AnWulf:

    Harriet, from the OED on my computer and online:

    verb [ no obj. ]
    1 (of an animal) return by instinct to its territory after leaving it: a dozen geese homing to their summer nesting grounds.
    • (of a pigeon bred for long-distance racing) fly back to or arrive at its loft after being released at a distant point.
    2 (home in on) move or be aimed toward (a target or destination) with great accuracy: more than 100 missiles were launched, homing in on radar emissions.
    • focus attention on: a teaching style that homes in on what is of central importance for each student.

    From etymology online: home (v.) 1765, “to go home”, from home (n.). Meaning “be guided to a destination by radio signals, etc. (of missiles, aircraft, etc.) is from 1920; it had been used earlier in reference to pigeons (1862). Related: Homed; homing. O.E. had hamian “to establish in a home”.

  10. MCFox:

    I’m not quite as old as you, Colleen, but all I can say is: “What she said!”
    -MCFox

  11. Robert Smith:

    HOME in was used for HOMING missiles homing in on their targets. HONE means to sharpen and could be used to mean finely adjusting something. The guy that says honing in is the same as homing in is flat wrong as are everybody else I hear confusing the terms.

  12. Al Friedman:

    I have always used the term to hone I on and only recently read the term home in on. I’m not a spring chicken, sadly, but from this discussion, I am inclined to think there must be a regional difference. I have been on the west coast for over 60 years…

  13. Danny Baker:

    If it were just the question of which verb to use (home vs. hone), there would be no controversy. The long-established meanings of both of those verbs are applicable in their respective ways to the usage in question. The problem lies in the addition of “in” or “in on”, as Karen nicely explained way back on June 8, 2010. Taken as a complete phrase (not just the verb), only “home in” or “home in on” makes any real sense. It’s OK for language to evolve, but this is a clear example of degradation, since those who favor “hone in” do so in ignorance of how the meaning of the phrase differs from the meaning of the verb…

  14. Sally:

    Thanks Jason. Enjoy your microwave dinner this evening!

  15. Cixi:

    In the past year I’ve been working with some Australians who often use the phrase “hone in on”. I had never heard it before during more than 50 years in the US and the UK. I’d like to know whether everyone in Australia uses that phrase, but have so far refrained from asking them because I haven’t had the heart to tell them I think they’ve got it wrong.

    I googled “hone in” to try to find out what the experts say about it, and was delighted to find this site. I love it and will definitely visit again!

  16. Tom:

    Well, there you go, then. No octogenarian could possibly err in grammar, now could he or she (another speech dragon I wish someone would home in on). Just today I saw CNN display the phrase “hone in on” in relation to Boston bombing suspects. Of course they meant home in on, which just sounds right for every reason the Word Detective listed. But what do I know? I’m only 65.
    Just A. Kid

  17. Will:

    Hone in is correct. It is much older than “home in” which is a more recent confusion used by lazy non-readers who hear it incorrectly and make the leap from the original usage to the idea of homing pigeons. Anyone who has read classic literature extensively knows the term “hone in” is correct. That,seemingly, would exclude most current journalists.

  18. Jonathan:

    From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. “An issue looming on the usage horizon is the propriety of the phrase hone in on. George Bush’s use of this phrase in the 1980 presidential campaign (he talked of ‘honing in on the issues’) caught the critical eye of political columnist Mary McCrory, and her comments on it were noted, approved, and expanded by William Safire. Safire observed that hone in on is a confused variant of home in on, and there seems to be little doubt that he was right. . . . Our first example of home in on is from 1951, in a context having to do with aviation. Our earliest record of its figurative use is from 1956. We did not encounter hone in on until George Bush used it in 1980. . . .

    “Recent evidence suggests that hone in on is becoming increasingly common. We have found it twice in the past few years in the pages of a popular magazine. . . .

    “It may be that eventually hone in on will become so common that dictionaries will begin to enter it as a standard phrase; and usage commentators will then routinely rail against it as an ignorant corruption of the language. That is a development we can all look forward to, but its time is not yet. In the meantime, we recommend that you use home in on instead”.

  19. Jonathan:

    You have been making this mistake for about 80 years. It’s not too late to make it right! The term “hone in” is born of a mistake and has absolutely no value in the English language. However, never mind the etymology, the psychology is fascinating. There are the not very bright folk who use “hone in” for obvious reasons. Then there are smarter folk who, when made aware of their silly error, construct convoluted, vaguely absurd arguments to justify their mistake. These invariably rely on very narrow and subtle definitions which in no way relate to everyday usage. Better yet, they use the simplistic and usually disingenuous, “English is a living language and this represents an evolution…..” argument (or excuse). A classic example of intelligent people using clever argument to support an opinion that they formed by other than intellectual means.

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