‘Hone in’ vs. ‘home in’

by | Jan 2, 2009 | Blog | 0 comments

“Hone in” is wrong. You will hear a lot of people these days saying that they’re “honing in on” something or other. These people are wrong in their use of the expression. This type of misuse is known as an eggcorn.

Honing refers to the use of a honing steel to straighten the edge of a knife blade. Honing is done regularly to maintain a knife’s edge, and honing does not remove steel from the blade.

You don’t “hone in on” the blade, you just hone it.

Periodically, after enough use, the knife will need to be sharpened using a whetstone, which does remove a little steel. Both honing and sharpening are detailed in the video above.

By analogy, it makes perfect sense to speak of honing your skills or honing your argument. But it would be wrong to say you’re going to “hone in on” your main point.

 ‘Home in’ is correct

The correct expression, “home in,” is derived originally from homing pigeons — messenger pigeons used as far back as 3000 BC to deliver military messages because of their unique ability to find their way home.

Expanding from the concept of homing pigeons, “homing” eventually was applied to pilots flying their airplanes home, and later to missile guidance systems that used technology to help a missile “home in on” a target — typically through some sort of feedback and course-correction mechanism.
It is from this context that a detective can be said to home in on a suspect, or researchers home in on a cure for a disease.

Understanding this, “home in” makes sense and “hone in” does not. Therefore, “hone in” is wrong, whether or not dictionaries acknowledge it.

It is up to each of us to insist on using language as accurately as possible, because through careless imprecision we can gradually slip into chaos and madness.


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