Home or hone? Just before Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September, we fielded this question from a perplexed reader:

Q: With all of the traffic rules and restrictions, I’m bracing for the Pope’s Philadelphia visit. And with the event just days away, I’m finally homing in on the details. Or should that be “honing in”? I have trouble keeping those phrases straight. The Pope can help to answer the question of home or hone.A: Of all of the similar-sounding word duos out there, homing and honing have a lot going for them in the confusion department. They are nearly spelled the same and can even have similar meanings in certain contexts.

The primary definition of homing, as used in your question, is to proceed toward a specified target in a controlled manner. Think “homing missile.” Homing’s secondary definition is to return to a place previously occupied. Think “homing pigeon.”

You would not “hone” in on the details of the Pope’s visit. Honing comes from the Old English word for “stone” and its literal meaning is to sharpen a blade. It has since evolved to mean to refine, improve, or perfect any attribute.

There is lots of honing going on as the city transforms itself into Pope-adelphia, however. Marketing people, entrepreneurs, punsters and journalists are all honing their language skills to see how many ways they can work the word “Pope” into witty turns of phrase or kitschy merchandise to sell. It’s a Pope-apalooza of punning.

Our pun antennae will be well honed, while we’re homing in on this historic event.

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