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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. Continue Reading…

Decent, Dissent, and Descent

In an article about a recent mountain hike, the author said this about his return trip: “The decent was more challenging than the ascent.”

A proofreading error, I’ll wager. But it presents a teachable moment.

Decent (DEE-sint) means acceptable, presentable, polite, socially acceptable. It can also mean clothed.

  • “If everyone is decent we’ll come in,” the coach hollered as he charged through the locker room door.

Or it can mean good, but not necessarily excellent.

  • His grades were decent, but not good enough to get into an Ivy League school.

Continue Reading…

Pity the Fool

Maybe you’re familiar with 1980’s pop icon Mr. T’s catchphrase “pity the fool,” and think it originated with him.

Not so. Literature—all the way back to the Bible—includes the concept of evoking sympathy for those less fortunate. But as Mr. T’s strutting, arrogant delivery makes clear, pity has a range of connotations.

In the purest sense, pity is a sympathetic sorrow for another’s physical or mental distress or misfortunes.

Add the suffix less and you have the antonym to pity—pitiless—which means “to show no pity.” Dickens had a pitiless person in mind when he created Ebenezer Scrooge, the cruel and merciless boss in A Christmas Carol. Continue Reading…

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