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Home In

I keep seeing people, even people who should know better, writing “hone in” for “home in”, and I'd like to do my part to fight against this mistake.

Part of the trouble, I think, is that “hone” is so rare that people don't have a feel for how to use it. Let's consult the dictionary.

  1. To sharpen on a hone.
  2. To perfect or make more intense or effective: hone a writing style.

It's so rare that I didn't even know there was a noun form!

  1. A fine-grained whetstone for giving a keen edge to a cutting tool.

I understand what “hone” means, but it's not a word I ever use. (Have you noticed that, that people have different vocabularies for input and output?) If I was forced to use it in a sentence, I might say “the butcher honed the knife” or “I honed my programming skills”, but there's really not much else that fits. The grammatical object needs to be either a sharp physical object or some kind of skill.

Of course, the use of “home” as a verb is also pretty rare.

  1. To go or return home.
  2. To be guided to a target automatically, as by means of radio waves.
  3. To move or lead toward a goal: The investigators were homing in on the truth.

The article Home in on at the always excellent World Wide Words traces the usage back to homing pigeons, but to me it's most familiar from homing missiles in video games.

The article Eggcorns lists many other examples of the same kind of mistake. See how laughably wrong the other examples are? That's how wrong it is to say “hone in”.


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@ November (2012)