HOME, Not Hone

Let us home in on one of the most maddening of malapropisms, born of the replacement of home in the phrase home in on (a precursor of zero in on) with hone.* The original phrase entered the language c.1940, and some three decades later hone reared its wrongheaded head. Not that it isn’t a word, defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows:

hone 1. To sharpen or smooth with a whetstone; 2. To make more acute, intense, or effective.

And could the meaning be any farther from the words in the proper phrase? You be the judge:

home in on  To find and move directly toward someone or something

Given the frequent use of hone in on on radio and television, you would think this fallacious term has superseded the phrase that makes perfect sense. But Google Ngram tells us that in print, at least, home in on is holding its own.

Likewise, dictionaries have yet to cite hone in as an alternate form of home in — but for how long? In the Internet age our language is changing more quickly than ever, and those of us whose skin crawls when the essential m is replaced with an n will just have to get used to it. Picky English speakers have swallowed bitter pills for centuries… and though I’ll say home in on till my dying day, I’ll try my best not to let this inevitable (?) interloper drive me over the edge.

*See also Hazardous Homonyms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *