Catachresis: Department of Not That Word: HONE IN
I heard it again last night on TV: “We need to hone in on….”
hone (verb, trans.): to sharpen with a whetstone, as a knife or axe; metaphorically, to make sharper or more efficient or more focused.
Note that HONE is a transitive verb; this means that it needs a direct object:
1. The dandy honed his razor daily before shaving.
2. The sharpshooter honed her skills with daily practice.
You can HONE something, just as you can sharpen something. You cannot hone in on something, just as you cannot sharpen in on something.
“We need to sharpen in on…” makes no sense. “We need to hone in on…” makes no sense for exactly the same reason.
The correct expression is “home in on,” which means “to move toward or to be aimed toward a target or a destination or a result.”
3. The missile homed in on the target.
4. The ads on her Facebook page homed in on her own shopping patterns.
5. The racing pigeon homed in on the dovecote.
So why do people say it? Maybe “hone” sounds more precise, because people connect it with something sharp and focused—even though that’s not what it means. Whatever the reason, it’s the wrong word, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d resist the temptation to use it in this incorrect fashion. Thank you.
(For an explanation of catachresis, see the post for January 28.)