‘Home In’ Or ‘Hone’

‘Home in’ or ‘hone in’? Is there a difference?

Yes, there is. One doesn’t make sense.

I read this sentence in a recent article:
(The newspaper’s) reporting honed in on a set of emails ….

It should be ‘homed in’, of course, but not everyone would have you think so.

This probably isn’t a mistake you make. What’s interesting, though, is the misleading information you might find if you try to look up the correct usage.

‘Home in’ or ‘hone’?

To ‘home in’ means to find a home, as a homing pigeon does, or a target, as a homing missile might.

The verb is used to talk about narrowing the field, focusing on or concentrating attention on something.

Merriam-Webster (online), however, claims ‘to hone in’ is an acceptable alternative.

It begins by using a reasonably valid argument in support: that usage can, over time, change the meaning of words. It cites examples, dating from 1965. That’s not very convincing. People have confused language elements for a lot longer than that.

It goes on to claim that the usage might have resulted from the ‘m’ in ‘home’ sounding like an ‘n’. That’s weak reasoning. It’s a mistake, not a valid reason for change.

Even worse, though, is the claim that the usage might result from an interpretation of ‘hone in’ as ‘to emphasise a point’, or ‘sharpen the focus on something’ etc, which would then make it appropriate to apply it to examples such as ‘a set of emails’, as in the quotation above.

Basically, it’s suggesting that using ‘home in’ or ‘hone’ is just a matter of choice.

There’s one major problem with that. It isn’t what ‘hone’ means.


‘To hone’ is to refine to smoothness, as in:

He honed the axe blade to ensure a smooth cut.

Honing doesn’t involve sharpening a point; honing smooths the flat surface of the metal to sharpen and enhance the cutting power of the edge of the blade.

And the word certainly doesn’t make sense with the prepositions ‘in’ and ‘on’ after it.

Most of us would be familiar with the expression ‘honing your skills’. That makes perfect sense. You smooth and sharpen your advantages to ‘give you the edge’.

I can’t see how that image would work as a replacement for ‘homing in on’ something.

It totally misses the point.

Why not read these articles for more ways to Be Word Wise?