When he was young, our oldest son sang out “homey, homey,” whenever we pulled into the driveway from an out-of-town trip. I use that rather homely introduction to home in on the Word of the Week.
Or is it hone in?
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not sure. Even the experts aren’t in agreement on this one.
Traditionalists insist the phrase is homing in. Homing derives from the 19th century use of homing pigeons—those birds with an innate ability to find their way home. By the 20th century, homing in also referred to missiles or aircraft finding its target, zeroing in.
Homing in is often used metaphorically to show progress toward a goal. For example:
Investigators seem to be homing in on the cause of the accident.
But hone in has been used erroneously so often that some dictionaries define it as “to move or advance toward a goal.” Hone comes from the Middle English whetstone. The verb hone means to “sharpen or smooth with a whetstone, or to make more acute, intense, or effective.” It often refers to improving a talent or skill.
Jim is honing his talent in hopes of acing the American Idol audition.
Brian Klems at Writers Digest suggests this simple guide for using home/hone correctly. If your sentence needs “in on” after the verb, use home. If not, hone is probably the right choice.
Be careful not to confuse either expression with horning in. Interrupting or trying to get involved when you’re not welcome could turn homely real quick.