According to celebrity website TMZ (quoted in the previous post on this blog), the FBI is “honing in” on the scofflaws who stole Scarlett Johansson’s nude photos.
However, this is not the usual way to use the word “hone.” Normally, you hone your skills — that is, make more acute or effective, improve, or perfect.
Hone can also mean “to sharpen on a hone” (thanks, dictionary, that was really helpful!) No, seriously, a hone is a whetstone, or sharpening tool:
Just as to “hone” your skills is to sharpen them, to “whet” your appetite is to “stimulate; make keen or eager,” or “to sharpen by rubbing on or with something (as a stone).”
Many who care about language say that “hone in” is a mistake — the speaker really means “home in.” However, over time, the two phrases have started to merge. Here is one explanation:
The original is from early aeronautics. Pilots were guided to their destinations and back to their home bases by radio beacons. In the jargon of the time — the early 1920s — they were said to home on the beacons. This was clearly taken from the somewhat older expression homing pigeons. In later years, beacons were fitted to aircraft so one could home on another. By this time — around 1940 — home had lost much of its literal association with going home and had taken on the figurative idea of “guiding an aircraft to its target or destination by means of a radio signal”.
…After the war, people began to use it in the current figurative sense of focusing one’s attention on a single matter.
That’s now the only situation in which most people encounter it. It’s hardly obvious to somebody who hasn’t come across it before or who doesn’t know the background. Why home? This lack of context makes it easy for speakers to change the word into something that seems to be more appropriate or make more sense. Hone in on is a classic example of the type of word shift that has become known in recent years among linguists as an eggcorn: a change in word form due to error or misunderstanding.
In this case, it seems to be the figurative sense of the verb to hone, meaning to sharpen a tool, that has led to the change, since it’s widely used to mean making something work better, for example when we say somebody is “honing her skills”.
A final word from Merriam-Webster:
Though “home in” seems to have established itself in American English (and mention in a British usage book suggests it is used in British English too), your use of it especially in writing is likely to be called a mistake. Home in or in figurative use zero in does nicely.
Here’s to hoping that the FBI homes in on the scofflaws (and roués!) who hacked ScarJo’s phone.
A prodigy is an extraordinarily talented person, especially a child genius. For instance, Doogie Howser, of the TV show, “Doogie Howser, M.D.”
Prodigal is an adjective meaning “wastefully or recklessly extravagant,” or a noun meaning “a wasteful person.” This is Rembrandt’s painting “Return of the Prodigal Son,” based on a story from the Bible.
The guy on his knees is the prodigal one, but in the painting, he’s not being prodigal — he’s repenting for being prodigal.
The pith of the story is this: A man has two sons. Younger son: “Hey Dad, I know you’re not dead yet, but can I have my inheritance now anyway?” The munificent father gives the son the money, and the son goes off and spends it on wine and women, that sort of thing (what a libertine!) Then, famine strikes! The son becomes desperately poor and has to herd pigs. When it gets really bad, he decides to go back home and beg for a job as his father’s servant. But before the son can even ask, the father is already kissing him and having the servants dress him in fine robes and “kill the fatted calf” for a celebration. The older, obedient, non-prodigal son gets kind of pissed — nobody’s throwing a party for him, so why are they throwing a party for his jerk brother? We’ll leave aside the religious lesson (hint: the Dad is like God!), but the prodigal part is the younger son wasting all his money.
In sum, prodigal and prodigy are not at all the same thing! If I hear one more person tell me that prodigal means “genius,” I will be filled with a prodigious indignation!
To jibe is to be in harmony or accord with. Her adopt-a-highway plan didn’t jibe with my idea of a good spring break. Surprisingly, jibe also means “to shift from one side to the other when running before the wind, as a fore-and-aft sail or its boom.”
To gibe is to jeer, taunt, or deride. Or, as a noun, gibes are insults.
After putting up with my lab partner’s gibes for the entire length of the project, I requested a less asinine classmate for the next semester’s project. As I told the professor, our styles just didn’t jibe, because I am amiable and she is an intractable boor.