Homing in on Honing In

Where do grammar and usage fit in these days?

In a world of "bigly" and "alternate facts," I'm not quite sure anymore.

A while back the “Oldest Newspaper in the Country” ran a headline talking about our governor HONING IN on something. It was pretty hard to miss. Of course we don’t hone in on anything unless we’re sharpening a knife to carve the turkey (or you’re sharpening one to stop me from going on) but the truth is we HOME in on things. Remember homing pigeons? They homed in on their destinations, carrying messages from one place to another. In a sense they came home. If they were honing pigeons, the people who received the messages would probably have been hacked to death.

   

But I said to my wife—and she agreed—if the Courant had written “Homing In,” most readers would have thought the headline writer had erred. But in fact “hone in” is wrong. Not “acceptable,” wrong. I’ve given up fighting lots of usage gaffes—I no longer cringe when someone says he had a fun time—but I’m homing in on this one.

   

So where does grammar fit in these days? I guess wherever you want it to. But here’s a book that will make it enjoyable—Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Conner. Now revised and expanded, it’s been around a while—still a painless and humorous approach to grammar and usage, one that can  help us hone our communication skills and home in on the minuscule problems that annoy us.