Home - hone

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These two look similar, and sound alike unless carefully pronounced. But their meanings are very far apart - although home can sometimes be seen in print where hone would be expected.

  • To hone something is to sharpen it - indeed, to put a very fine edge on a good cutting instrument. It is often used of razors, fine knives or swords. So, figuratively, it has come to mean 'to make very sharp, acute or quickly intelligent.' The noun 'a hone', meaning a whetstone or sharpening stone, is recorded in English over a thousand years ago.
  • home on the other hand as a verb means 'to travel towards the place where one lives'. The noun and adverb do not need any explanation.

It is a mistake (though not an uncommon one) to write "to home one's wit". The usual expression is the figurative "to hone one's wit [on someone]" - to make fun of that person. "To hone in on [somewhere] literal or figurative" is also sometimes written, when "to home in on" is meant (~ 'to head towards, as if towards home'; 'to head towards a target'; 'to focus [e.g. one's studies] upon').