Grammar is mainly about structure and usage, and we may be stretching usage a bit here to include diction, or word choice. However, words mistaken for one another bedevil much writing and are more than worthy of discussion here.


It's all spell check's fault. Well, not really, but spell check can be a very deceptive friend. Although it will catch misspellings, it will not catch misuse, and many a "than" for "then" or "their" for "there" or "they're" has flown by the unwary keyboarder.


But what we're talking about here are genuinely confusing words. Do people who make mistakes get their "just desserts" or "just deserts"? Do I "hone in" on this problem or "home in" on it?


Well, one often gets what one deserves, and it's not always ice cream, alas. It's "deserts," and not in the sense of the Sahara desert, but in a rather archaic gerundial form of "deserve" as "desert," akin to "deal" and "dealt."


Let's home in on a real issue: is it "hone in on" or "home in on"? Personally, this misusage bothers me to no end. I never used to hear this, and all of a sudden, it's everywhere! Well, some research turned up an unexpected delight amind the manure of mangled diction in the form of a new term: It turns out "hone in on" is an eggcorn, as the wonderful World Wide Words site points out.


Home is correct; the word refers to the radio beacons pilots used to guide their planes back to home base in World War II. But "hone" has quickly taken over! Especially since one of its earliest citations: George Bush used it in an 1980 speech, and it's spread like wildfire. It's an eggcorn!


Wanna know what an eggcorn is? Home in on this column, next week!

Message Edited by Ellen_Scordato on 08-20-2009 04:59 PM
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎08-20-2009 06:06 PM
As always, great post, Ellen. I keep this link to "Common Errors in English" handy at all times so I can try not to look more foolish than necessary.  Supposably, we need to set good examples while writing here at UB. The list comes from Paul Brians' "Common Errors in English Usage."
by Phil_K on ‎08-21-2009 01:44 PM

Great topic -- I think a lot of these errors creep into the language because there's a specious logic to them. One of my favorites is the misuse of "hoi polloi" to mean "upper crust" -- it means exactly the opposite, of course, but it sounds like "hoity-toity," so people feel sure it must apply to those Park Avenue swells in their furs and limos. Same with the mispronunciation of "lackadaisical" as "laxadaisical" -- well, those daydreaming types are usually pretty lax when it comes to practical matters, are they not?  

About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.