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A Necessary Corrective

“Hone in on.”

Not only did I hear this phrase—twice—yesterday, I also saw it in print. (Granted, it was the Inlander, but still.) The problem is, it’s incorrect.

To hone is to sharpen. You hone knives, lawnmower blades, and battleaxes. You also hone your skills at something—like wielding that newly sharpened battleaxe.

To home in on something is to move toward a target. (The center of a target is called “home.”)

Alas, it’s not nearly as simple as all that. My copy of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition) approves of the use of hone in when referring to advancing toward a target or goal; likewise when directing one’s attention or focus.

But when you read on, you discover that hone in is, in fact, nothing more than an “alteration” of home in. In other words, enough ill-informed people have mistakenly uttered “hone in on…” that the editors of my favorite dictionary  have effectively waved the white flag of surrender.

Yes, yes, I know that language evolves. But evolution—whether of species or of words—is a function of necessity, not of laziness or ignorance. In what possible way is hone in an improvement over home in? What gaping hole in our language does it fill?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.



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