hone in versus home in

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nat: Is it "homes in" or "hones in"?

Our Boss: Dammit.

Nat: ..."hone in" seems to be the standard, but "home in" seems right--like you would say, "A missile homing in on its target."

Our Boss: Mirriam-Webster has an entry for "hone in" but not an entry for "home in":

The few commentators who have noticed hone in consider it to be a mistake for home in. It may have arisen from home in by the weakening of the \\m\\ sound to \\n\\...[t]hough it seems to have established itself in American English (and mention in a British usage book suggests it is used in British English too), your use of it especially in writing is likely to be called a mistake. "A missile honing in on its target."

Nat: So it's "hone"? H-O-November-E? But "to hone" means "to sharpen."

Our Boss: Or you could just change it to "closes in."

Nat: When in doubt...

Our Boss:...change the sentence.

Nat: But now I really want to ask...

Our Boss:...[Our Other Boss].

Both: This going to be one of those half-hour discussions.

[We enter Our Other Boss's office; he's on the computer with his back to us.]

Our Boss: Okay, we have one of those half-hour-discussion questions: Is it "hone in" or "home in"?

Our Other Boss: This sounds like a Nat Question. [turns around, sees me] Dammit.


Our Other Boss: So which is it?

Our Boss: We want to hear your take.

Our Other Boss: "Homes in," like a missile homes in on its target.

Nat: Mirriam-Webster says it's "hones in."

Our Other Boss: "To hone" means, "to sharpen."

Nat: It's an eggcorn.

Our Bosses: ?

Nat: A homonym for the right word that also sort of works, like "tow--T-O-W--the line" and "toe-T-O-E--the line."

Our Other Boss: But the correct expression is "toe the line."

Our Boss:
What's the word called?

Nat: An "eggcorn." Like "acorn" but "egg--E-G-G--corn."

Our Boss [to Our Other Boss]: He knows all that bizarre, idiosyncratic terminology--like the pound sign is called...

Nat:...an octothorpe.

Our Other Boss: "Octo" because it has eight prongs...

Nat: And "thrope" because the guy-who-invented-it's favorite athlete was Jim Thorpe.

Our Boss: Is there another name for the star sign? Besides...


Our Other Boss:
But some people say, "asterik"...

Nat:...instead of "risk."

Our Other Boss: You know how "toe the line came about"? Back when they used to fight duels, they had the opponents walk ten paces, but they didn't walk ten paces, they had their seconds draw lines, and when they reached the lines they'd turn around and immediately fire.

Andrew Jackson had a duel with this guy named Dickinson, and since Jackson challenged him, Dickinson got to choose the weapon, so he chose pistols. Jackson wasn't a good pistol shot, so instead of just shooting right when he reached the line, he was going to focus really hard on his aim. He said, "Even if Dickinson shot me in the brain, I'd get my shot off."

On the day of the duel, Jackson wore this bulky coat, and when they walked their paces and Dickinson turned to fire, he hit Jackson right below the heart. Because of Jackson's coat, Dickinson couldn't tell where'd he'd hit him and he'd missed all of Jackson's vital organs, but he bled like a stuck pig. When he stepped toward Jackson, Jackson told him, "Nuh-uh: Get back to your line." Jackson held his aim and shot the guy and it took Dickinson something like three days to die.

So they say it's "hone," huh?

Our Boss: I said we should just change it to "closes in."

Our Other Boss: Yeah, I like that better. [turns back toward his computer]