Jibe talkin’ with honing pigeons

I may not be the world’s best grammarian, but some things just bother me.  Here are two.

“This doesn’t jive with the facts.”  Should be jibe, right?  Jibe is pretty much only used in this idiom, and I suppose people don’t really know the word, mishear it, and end up thinking it’s jive. People also tend to misspell gibe (meaning a taunt) as jibe.

“He honed in on the central problem.”  Should be homed instead of honed, right?  Like homing pigeons.  In this case, honed makes a bit of sense, since to hone something is to sharpen it, and maybe you could think of the idiom as one of sharpening something to a point, rather than aiming for a target.

Anyway, language is always changing.  And the nice folks at Google have given us a way of tracking these changes via the Ngram Viewer, which is simply the most awesome time-waster ever.  Here we see the history of “doesn’t jibe with” vs. “doesn’t jive with” in American books from 1800 to 2000 (click the link to see a bigger version):

The data shows that “doesn’t jibe with” starts taking off around 1900, and “doesn’t jive with” doesn’t show up until the 1970s.  My guess is that the slope of “doesn’t jive with” has gone up considerably since 2000, when the Google data ends.

Here we see what’s going on with “home in on” vs. “hone in on”, again in a couple of centuries’ worth of American books:

In this case, nothing much was happening with “home in on” until the late 50s, and “hone in on” followed about 20 years later.  Both have exploded in popularity since then.

You can also change the corpus.  If we look at British English instead of American English, we  see that both phrases started up about 20 years after the American version, and “home in on” is still much more popular:

I wonder why.  Was Britain picking up the American idiom?

Anyway, I could keep doing this all night!  But instead, let’s listen to the Bee Gees.  Can anyone tell me what the time signature is here?  It’s a pretty complicated rhythm for a pop song.

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4 thoughts on “Jibe talkin’ with honing pigeons

  1. Pingback: In which I end up with a pit in my stomach | richard bowker

  2. Pingback: In which Joe Biden tests the limits of my support | richard bowker

  3. Pingback: Bad words from yesteryear | richard bowker

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