Archives

Laura Moyer is a compulsive copy editor who reads the AP Stylebook for fun.
Share
RSS feed of this blog

Misspoken? Or misheard?

Or maybe not.

I don’t think it’s morally wrong to change a misused word in a spoken quotation as long as you’re not changing meaning.

Here’s a recent quote I would have changed if I’d been the copy editor:

“It’s been a huge boom for our programming here.”

I suppose you could make a case for “boom” being the right word if you meant something like “business is booming.” But I just don’t buy it. The correct word here is “boon.”

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if the speaker said “boom” or “boon.” Even if I had been, I’m not sure I could have heard a difference; these words sound so similar one could easily be misheard for the other.

Similarly, we recently quoted someone talking about finding weak spots “and really honing in on them.”

I acknowledge that many people think “honing in” is the proper expression, but no. It’s “homing in.”

The homing in/honing in question is pretty hotly debated on the Internet, because what isn’t? The argument for “honing in” seems to be, “Most people think the expression is ‘honing in,’ so honing in should be considered right.” I find that less than convincing.

Webster’s backs me up for once.

Under the verb meanings of “home,” it lists “to home (in) on,” meaning to guide to a destination or target. There’s no such meaning listed under “hone.” As a verb, hone means to sharpen.

Regardless of whether the story subject said “honing” or “homing,” the reporter should have written “homing.” And when the reporter didn’t, an editor should have asked the reporter about it and negotiated a way to bring across meaning without embarrassing the speaker or ourselves.

The options, as always:

Paraphrase, taking the problematic word or phrase out of quotation marks.

Or, if the reporter acknowledges that the error could have been his or hers, just change it.

Thanks to Rupert Farley for spotting both of these quotations in print and emailing to ask about them.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/theredpen/2011/08/23/misspoken-or-misheard/