• hone •
Pronunciation: hon • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To sharpen to a fine point or edge with a whetstone (= a hone). 2. To bring into sharp focus. 3. To perfect.
Notes: Today's Good Word is often confused with the verb to home (in), especially in the States. The verb home in means "to bring or direct nearer to a target", as 'to home in on the enemy airfield' or 'home in on the guilty party' (by honing the investigative techniques). This is a purely English word, which means that derivations are the obvious ones: honing is the adjective (a honing process) and the noun (the process of honing our thoughts).
In Play: Here are a couple of examples that illustrate the differences in the meanings of hone and home: "The more Aaron Spelling honed his report, the more it homed in on his department as the cause of the problem." Here is another: "Natalie Cladd honed her wardrobe constantly as she homed in on young men with a sense of style."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from the same ancient root ak- "sharp" that produced Latin acus "needle", which underlies a host of English borrowings such as acute, acumen, acrid, and accurate. At some point the [a] and [k] sounds in this root underwent metathesis (switched places) and took on the suffix -men. This suffix changed little in Russian, where the word emerged as kamen "stone", but it was simplified by Old Germanic and emerged in Old English simply as han "(whet)stone", which devolved into the noun hone. Today's verb developed from the use of this noun as a verb. (It is time we hone this essaylet and home in on a word of gratitude to Chris Berry for suggesting today's Good Word.)