Hone What You’re Homing In On

Occasionally the misappropriation of a word or term becomes so common that most people don’t even know it’s used in error. Such may be the case with home in and hone in.

After all, if you’re not listening carefully, the m and n sounds may be hard to distinguish.

Home in originated in the nineteenth century with the use of homing pigeons—a variety of pigeon bred to find its way home after traveling long distance. It’s that homing instinct from which the term home in takes it meaning that finds a target.

Today the term applies more to modern weaponry than bird, but the concept of zeroing in on a target remains the same.

The transitive verb hone has a literal meaning: to sharpen a cutting tool. The figurative meaning of hone is “to perfect a skill.”

Since you wouldn’t say sharpen in, hone in is an alteration of home in, but even the venerable Oxford English Dictionary gives hone in its own entry: “to head directly for something; to turn one’s attention intently towards something.”

  • The rookie baseball player is homing in on Babe Ruth’s home run record.
  • He was able to do so early in his career because he worked at honing his skill.

A pair of closely related words whose British and American usages are distinctly different are homey and homely. Both languages agree that homey means homelike or characteristic of a home.

Originally, homely meant the same thing, but gradually it has come to mean simple, plain, unadorned. American English degraded its meaning even further so that today it is used to refer to someone or something that is decidedly unattractive.

In Great Britain, homely is still more closely related to its original meaning and refers to someone who keeps a warm and welcoming home.

So be careful  whom you call homely.

Search Posts Here

Subscribe to My Blog

Similar Posts


  1. I always figured that when Tolkien referred to Rivendell as ‘the Last Homely House east of the sea’ it was a British way of saying homey. I’m so glad he didn’t call it ‘the Last Homey House east of the sea.’ Less poetic and with some strange connotations in American slang.

    Tolkien had honed his skill as a writer and could always home in on just the right word.

  2. Apparently, homely is also a way to compliment a pregnant woman. Where we might say ‘you are glowing,’ a Scot might say ‘you are looking very homely,’ meaning motherly and domestic. As my mother found out from her Scottish doctor…

Leave a Reply

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