Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"Hone in" Was Bad Enough

The misuse of "hone" for "home" in the phrase "home in" has been going on for a long time, at least since the early 1990s, according to Bryan Garner (who gives it a Stage 3 rating, meaning it has become commonplace but is still avoided in careful usage). "Hone" was the subject of one of my earliest posts.

But recently I saw a new variant that's even worse:

This story from the Washington Post was reprinted in both of my local newspapers (in fact, it made it into the Star Tribune twice — once in this shortened form on December 31 and again at full length on January 3). That means it got past the few remaining copy editors at least four times (counting the original from the WaPo).

I have a feeling that "zone in" is a rhyming eggcorn for "hone in." (An eggcorn is a homophonic substitution that makes sense to the listener or reader.)

Here's where I think the sub came from and why it makes a twisted kind of sense: You know how cop dramas and science fiction generally like to show a technician zooming into a screen image to see details of a crime or other surveillance footage? The investigator standing over the tech's shoulder says, "Can you show more detail there?" and the tech drags the cursor cross-hairs over a small zone of the picture, magically enlarging it with lots more resolution to reveal "the truth" or at least a significant clue.

The tech picked a zone and zoomed in ("zone" and "zoom" are also almost homophones). So now we have home —> hone —> zone (zoom).

While "zone in" may make sense in a way, it's still obvious the copy editors have zoned out rather than in.

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