Homing In

Once upon a time, long, long ago…(Fall of 2010)

In a faraway land…(Moscow, Idaho)

a farmgirl princess (MaryJane Butters)

was indulging in one of her favorite, guilty pleasures…

Photo, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Andreas Trepte

No, not banana bread. My OTHER guilty pleas–

No, not Ham and ‘Tater BakeOver, neither! My OTHER other guil–okay, I’ll just come out with it:

The New York Times.

Delivered to my mailbox every day, a day late.

I may be a country girl (er, farmgirl princess), but I’m sweet on their Travel, Arts, Business, Home, and Science sections, well, just about all of it, but I also subscribe to our local daily newspaper. (It actually costs more than a sub to The New York Times.) It all started years ago when I wanted to read The New York Times Book Review without fail. (It comes out once per week IN the newspaper itself.) Their Review is my way of “reading” all the books I can’t possibly, actually, read.

Anyway, just before the last election, I’m sitting there reading a Nate Silver article and see this:

“I’ve started to hone in on the seats…”

Not “home in,” mind you, but “hone in.”

Well, it’s been stuck in my brain ever since! So let’s home in on the issue.

Home in” came into use in the 1800s to describe homing pigeons doing their thing. (Okay, I know this through experience. When I was a kid, my father erected a 10-foot-high, 2-foot-wide section of culvert in our backyard. On top of that, he plopped a homemade pigeon house he’d built. He wanted us to KNOW the concept of homing pigeons. Whenever we left for a camping trip, we’d catch and load some of our homing pigeons into a cage, put it on the back seat of our old sedan—also loaded down with tents, sleeping bags, and fishing poles—and then let the homing pigeons loose just before we left to come back home. The race was on! But they’d almost always beat us home. (Really, it was my parents’ way of keeping some of us occupied while they were packing for a trip. Have you tried catching a pigeon lately?)

After the 1800s and into the next century, “home in” was being used to describe aircrafts and the like. Of course, by that time, the phrase was also being misused, a la “hone in.”

But hone means to sharpen something. Something physical, like your favorite banana bread knife on a whetstone, or something abstract, like my killer wit (I’m also honing my modesty.)

So if you’re zeroing in on something, you’re homing in, not honing in. But this here English language is a work-in-progress, and some dictionaries now include “hone in” as an acceptable alternative.

I’m a stickler who’s “stickling” with “home in,” especially given my whispering ways with pigeons. (Does this mean I’ll end up on a park bench when I’m old?)

But what do you think? Should “hone in” catch a break?

  1. Eileen Cigala says:

    I think it is confusing! I have always used “home in” when referring to pin point accuracy…and “hone in” or just “hone” when referring to improving skill. I guess if one says she is honing her pronunciation (making it sharper) but she still needs to home in on her congugations…it could seem as though they are interchangeable…probably an evolution of the language that will proceed.

  2. lani kyea says:

    As you pointed out, hone is a fine grit stone to sharpen with and as such can not be used as an alternative for Home so I do not want to see hone misused for home in.

  3. Margaret Wolf says:

    I see “hone in” as sharpening ones focus on something. So yes I can see it used as an alternative.

  4. Gabrielle says:

    I have always used hone… like honing a skill or sanding something really well. Honing is good for the soul too. 🙂

  5. Gwen Dixon says:

    I would love to leave a wonderful reply, but others had honed the idea way better than I ever could. So I will just sit here in my home and hone up on my reading skills.

  6. Jeannie Pierce says:

    I am thinking we should hone our skills with the English language. Although, I have noticed throughout my life how it is a living, evolving thing in and of itself. Here is another phrase I have noticed being misused…..”for all intents and purposes”. I hear folks say “for all intensive purposes.” Hm…….

  7. Lizvc says:

    Slang can change on a daily basis, but I don’t think that misuse of a word should be encouraged. I work around college students and I get quite a few empty looks from the younger ones and dirty looks from the older ones because I can’t stop myself from correcting them when they misuse a word or mangle a cliche phrase.

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