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According to Oxford dictionary, both seem to mean "focus on" or "aim at"

zero in: Take aim with a gun or missile/Focus one’s attention.
home in: Move or be aimed toward (a target or destination) with great accuracy.

Are they interchangeable? If not, what's the difference?

  • 2
    The definitions seem pretty clear. zero in is aiming at something with a weapon, home in means moving physically closer to it. – Barmar Apr 15 '15 at 21:26
  • They mean pretty much the same but have different connotations. "Zero in" means to aim/focus with precision, while "home in" means to arrive at a goal by searching for it. – Hot Licks Apr 15 '15 at 22:54
  • The for is offensive the latter is defensive an or retaliatory. – user96718 Apr 16 '15 at 1:21
  • @Barmar - "Zero in", as used in the US, carries no implication that a weapon is involved. In fact, "home in" is slightly more likely to imply aggressive action since there is a slight association with "homing missile", et al. – Hot Licks Apr 16 '15 at 2:16
  • @HotLicks As the definition says, it's also used for focusing attention. But that use is unlikely to be confused with home in. The main point is that zeroing in doesn't imply moving towards the target, just your focus or aim, while homing in does. – Barmar Apr 16 '15 at 10:40
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Think of it as a matter of accuracy.

Zero is often used as a point of reference, sometimes called "the origin". If you aim for zero, there's only one precise place you can succeed: zero itself. Zeroing in implies a high level of accuracy, the idea being that your delta from the target approaches zero.

Home, OTOH, is not a precise point in space; it's a more general area -- you can be at home in your living room, kitchen, etc, so to home in on something means you're trying to get within some reasonable distance of the centroid of that which defines "home" ( a house, a parcel of land, a planet, some region with area or volume ).

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