home in vs. hone in

Homing_pigeonThe other evening while watching a program on PBS,* one of our household’s esteemed thought leaders** posed the question, “What is correct? ‘Hone in’ or ‘home in’?” Without hesitation, I responded “hone in.” A brief discussion ensued about how often we hear “home in” used incorrectly in conversation and in the media. As we returned to our television viewing, I admit feeling a little smug about my mastery of the English language. Then, sneakily, doubt began to set in.

As usual, I turned to Google to reaffirm my proficiency. Whomp! I swear I could actually hear the blow to my ego when I found out I was wrong. “Home in” is the long-established phrase, meaning to move toward a goal or target. Its origin came from homing pigeons and has been commonly used to refer to missiles. “Hone in” is the latecomer and seems to have originated from various authors (George Plimpton) and speakers (George H. W. Bush) as an erroneous form of “home in.” Some sources say “hone in” has evolved into an acceptable alternative to “home in,” but others stick by the original phase. At any rate, this is not the first time (see Historic vs. Historical), nor surely not the last, I’ve had to stand corrected. No worries – I’m pretty confident my ego can handle it.

*It may have been MasterChef on Fox.

**A.K.A. my dear husband. Who knew that all these years he has wanted to be considered a thought leader?

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