A few years ago, I answered a phone call from a reader who took us to task for using “home in” to refer to a signal in a news story in that day’s edition of The N&O. She assured me that the phrase was “hone in.” I was certain that we were correct, but I grabbed the dictionary and read her the definition of “home in,” as in “guided by a signal.” She remained unconvinced, and I’ve heard many people over the years use “hone in” when they mean “home in.”
Here is a sentence from a news release that uses the word incorrectly: Using direction finding equipment to hone in on the beacon’s signal, the helicopter crew located the lost hunters within four minutes of arriving on scene.
The way I remember how to use this phrase is to think of a homing pigeon, and, indeed, that is how usage books explain the difference. “Hone,” on the other hand, refers to sharpening or improving, as in honing our grammar skills.
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.