Posted by: Jack Henry | April 17, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Home in, hone in, phone home

Dear Editrix,

I read an article where they mentioned homing in on something. Isn’t the verb to hone in on something? I think it’s homing pigeons, not honing pigeons. Now I’m confused!


Where should I send my pigeons to roost?


Dear friend of pigeons,

Let’s have a look at these frequently confused words and phrases. Here is some information from The Grammarist:

Home in means to direct on a target. The phrasal verb derives from the 19th-century use of homing pigeons, but it resurged in the 20th century to refer to missiles that home in on their targets. It’s also commonly used metaphorically, where to home in on something is to focus on and make progress toward it.

Hone inbegan as an alteration of home in, and many people regard it as an error. It is a very common, though, especially in the U.S. and Canada—so common that many dictionaries now list it—and there are arguments in its favor. Hone means to sharpen or to perfect, and we can think of homing in as a sharpening of focus or a perfecting of one’s trajectory toward a target. So while it might not make strict logical sense, extending hone this way is not a huge leap.

Outside North America, home in prevails by a huge margin. It also prevails in North America, but only by a ratio of about two to one. Hone in is common even in technical, scientific, and military contexts, where one might expect home in to prevail. A few American and Canadian publishers clearly favor home in as a matter of policy, but most apparently have no strictly enforced policy one way or the other.

Phone home:

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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