These pairs are tricky little devils!
You’ve heard it often. Maybe you’ve said it yourself: That just doesn’t jive with the data we’ve collected. Or how about this one: We should have an answer soon – we’re honing in on the truth.
Both incorrect, but in each case, an understandable mistake. Good grief! These words sound so similar, and none of them, used as verbs, is part of our daily parlance. How often do you talk about “jibe,” a nautical term meaning to alter course or to shift from one side to the other? Unless you’re a sailor, probably not very often.
And how much actual honing have you done lately, sharpening a blade with the use of a whetstone? I confess, I’ve never even tried it, but I used to watch my dad do it. He seemed to enjoy the process. Me? I’ve never owned a whetstone.
This is hard stuff. On the other hand, I’ll bet every one of us has fairly recently asserted that two sets of data do or do not “jive” or “jibe,” right? And we do fairly regularly talk about “homing in on” or “honing in on” the truth, the answer or the solution. We use these terms now and then. I submit that we are then obligated to use them correctly.
So, with the help of both Merriam-Webster online and Dictionary.com, I will attempt to explain the correct use of these two sets of near-homophones (two words that sound almost exactly alike). And we’ll also consider the extenuating circumstance: Our problems arise when we use these words as verbs. We’re pretty sure we know what they mean as nouns. Let me illustrate:
· Everybody knows what a “home” is. It’s where you hang your hat. It’s “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s no place like home, as Dorothy said. “Home” as a noun is easy.
· As a verb, however, “home” means to proceed to or toward a source of radiated energy or to direct attention toward an objective. Very different from what Robert Frost had in mind. For example:
o Science is homing in on the mysterious human process.
o The drone is homing in on the target as we speak.
So, yes, you home in on the answer. You home in on the solution. You do not hone in on anything, although you do hone (sharpen) your skills or your knife.
Whew! Are you surprised? Certain educated and lauded experts who appear on the Sunday morning talk shows would also be surprised, as they make the very same mistake. Some of them talk about “honing in on” and others confuse “jive” and “jibe.” So now let’s get to that other tricky pair.
Again, we all know what “jive” is as a noun: It’s a kind of music. A more recent application as a verb, considered slang, is to “jive” someone – to “pull their leg,” tell untruths, kid them or tease them. But, when we compare two accounts to see whether they align logically, we are not checking to see whether they “jive.” We are checking to see whether they “jibe.”
In fact, that obscure nautical term about altering course or shifting from one side to the other, jibe, is exactly what we’re after.
· The candidate’s most recent remarks about the president’s birthplace do not jibe with his statements over the past five years.
· The other candidate’s claims about her emails do not jibe with what the FBI reported to us.
[This election year is a great time to exercise our right to test whether things said actually “jibe,” because most don’t. You agree?]
I think you see now that our two opening statements were incorrect. Correctly, the report does not jibe with the data we’ve collected, and we are homing in on the truth (like a bunch of homing pigeons). But may I say, in closing, that I believe these two pairs are mighty tricky, and folks are just doing the best they can. If they are among our readership, however, now they can do even better!
(I only hope that assertion jibes with your previous experience here at the Speakeasy.)