As dictionary.com explains, beautifully and concisely, the familiar phrase “home in on” began to take shape as “home” morphed from noun to verb — starting in the mid 1800’s with pigeons, then picking up considerable steam through most of the 1900’s, with radar, aviation, and missile technology. They politely note that “hone in on” is a new usage that is now picking up a lot of steam too — enough that a few dictionaries are listing it as an acceptable use.
It’s not. Fly with me awhile and I’ll try to explain why…
The main reason you don’t want to use this phrase is because people like me are listening, and there are more of me than you think. When someone uses this phrase, we hear the dissonance of a perfectly useful and familiar locution being passed over for shiny new confederate coin: something bold, attention-getting, and stupid. We hear an expression that was equal parts wrong and grasping when it was first minted — and despite the fact that so many strivers have mindlessly drifted hone-ward — it still sounds wrong and grasping. It makes us sad to think that those who use it, reveal more about themselves than they’re aware, (because that’s a thing civilized adults try not to do).
If you’re irked with me at this juncture because you have used this phrase on occasion, you may be taking some comfort in the notion that there aren’t really that many grammar and word people out there, and they’re all losers anyway. That last assertion may be true, but I wouldn’t take too much comfort in it. Because the secret, terrible truth is this:
Even the hordes who love forgeries like “hone in on” — trust less the colleagues who also employ these phrases. They can sense a fellow striver, trying to sound authoritative, just as easily as we grammar bastards do. (Almost everyone has better antenna for other people than they do for themselves, civilized adults or no.)
But if that still goes down sideways, just dial up YouTube and scan the top 10 or 20 TED Talks. Or the top 50. Note how rarely these most-beloved speakers trot out the battered ornaments of MBA business prose. If there’s a “hone in on” in the bunch, I’d be quite surprised.
But if there is…well…now you know where to send ’em.