It’s Not “Hone In,” It’s “Home In!” At Least For Now…

15

On my Facebook page, I post a daily Grammar Challenge. You can get them by email too, but what I like about Facebook is that people get to post their answers and we can interact. Follow my Facebook page and be among the Grammatically Challenged.

Today’s Grammar Challenge proved particularly challenging:

Most of the folks who posted their answer — by a large margin — chose B, hone. These folks tend to be unusually bright in matters linguistic, so I was surprised to see so many wrong answers. The correct answer is A, home. But I have a feeling it won’t be the single correct answer for long.

Hone means “to sharpen.” It derives from an Old English word with Germanic origin meaning “stone.” The connection is clear, since metal implements were sharpened on stones.  Home, on the other hand is a fairly recently formed verb. It comes from the training of pigeons to fly to a prescribed destination. It’s first use in print, according to the OED, was in 1877. It started to occur in military terminology in the 1920s. The phrasal verb form home in on only showed up as recently as the 1950s. It means “to draw close to or be guided toward a target.”

Home is the logical and clearly correct verb here. Bombers want their weapons to strike home, so they home in on their targets. Sharpening things or the use of stones doesn’t seem to have any logical connection, so it’s a mystery that people started substituting hone for home in this usage. The first known published error was in a George Plimpton article in 1965. George W. Bush was derided for speaking of honing in on targets in 1980. Other than the very similar sounds and the relative obscurity of the idiom, I can’t think of a good reason for the confusion, but it certainly exists.

A quick look at Google’s N-gram viewer shows that published writers are increasingly likely to use hone in on rather than home in on. The search only goes as far as 2008.

Notice that the lines for home/homed/homing in on had already begun falling in the early 2000s while hone/honed/honing in on are rising. Based on the answers on my Facebook question, I wouldn’t be surprised if a more recent graph would show them crossing entirely.

My three dictionaries, Merriam-Webster (2014), American Heritage (2011), and Oxford American (2010), all include some note related to hone in on. The most recent one, Merriam-Webster, includes a separate reference for hone in with a usage note explaining that though its popularity is growing, it is still considered erroneous by many experts.

This seems to be a perfect example of English evolution in action. Purists might fight the change, arguing that hone in makes no sense, but it seems the tide is turning regardless. We might not like it, but widespread mistakes often create new words. And when a majority of people over time use hone instead of home, no amount of logic will change it. Dictionaries will eventually acknowledge the usage.

For now, I’ll stick with home in, but we should get used to the idea that hone in is destined for legitimacy.

*****

Post your comments below. I love to hear from readers!

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Egli Diana Pinto
    Egli Diana Pinto03-25-2017

    I visited multiple web pages except the audio quality for audio songs current at this website is
    genuinely marvelous.

  2. reducing cellulite
    reducing cellulite03-25-2017

    Wow! In the end I got a webpage from where I be able to actually obtain valuable facts regarding my study
    and knowledge.

  3. make money online
    make money online03-25-2017

    Hello! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established
    blog. Is it very difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick.
    I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

    Thank you

  4. Arletha
    Arletha03-24-2017

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  5. vela shape
    vela shape03-23-2017

    Hello There. I discovered your blog using msn. This is an extremely neatly written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back
    to learn more of your useful info. Thank you for the post.
    I’ll definitely return.

  6. options stay
    options stay03-22-2017

    I needed to thank you for this good read!! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it.
    I have you saved as a favorite to check out
    new stuff you post…

  7. Wilmer
    Wilmer03-22-2017

    It is appropriate time to make some plans for the long run and it is time to be happy.
    I’ve read this put up and if I could I want to counsel you some fascinating things or advice.
    Maybe you can write next articles regarding this article.
    I want to learn more issues about it!

  8. reputable financial advisors
    reputable financial advisors03-22-2017

    Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing
    a few months of hard work due to no data backup. Do
    you have any methods to stop hackers?

  9. Trudy
    Trudy03-20-2017

    I’m extremely pleased to uncover this web site.
    I need to to thank you for ones time just for this fantastic read!!
    I definitely really liked every little bit of it and I have you book-marked to look at new stuff in your web site.

  10. Egli Diana Pinto
    Egli Diana Pinto03-20-2017

    I’ve learn a few good stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting.
    I wonder how a lot attempt you put to create such a fantastic informative website.

  11. Itamar Serpa Fernandes
    Itamar Serpa Fernandes03-20-2017

    As the admin of this web site is working, no doubt very rapidly it will be famous, due
    to its quality contents.

  12. Tilly
    Tilly03-18-2017

    I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but good topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.

    Thanks for great information I was looking for this information for my mission.

  13. Augusto de Arruda Botelho
    Augusto de Arruda Botelho03-16-2017

    Hey There. I discovered your blog the usage of msn. That is a really neatly written article.

    I will be sure to bookmark it and come back to read extra of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.

  14. love anal
    love anal03-05-2017

    n9ZuC0 Just what I was searching for, thankyou for putting up.

  15. Merri Larsen Bryant
    Merri Larsen Bryant07-02-2015

    Makes perfect sense! I still have the visual image of ‘honing in’ ……narrowing my focus and hitting the mark.

Leave a Reply

If you like a post, please take a second to click "like," and comment as often as you like.
We promise not to correct your grammar!