Citing Wikipedia:

Many actuaries were unhappy with the stereotypical portrayals of these actuaries as unhappy, math-obsessed and socially inept people; others have claimed that the portrayals are close to home, if a bit exaggerated.

Does this mean "rather accurate"?

This does not seem to match the definition found in The American Heritage® Dictionary:

So as to affect one's feelings or interests

Nor the definition in Wiktionary:

Affecting people close to, or within, ones family circle.

Is Wikipedia misusing the term?
Or are those definitions wrong?
Or am I misunderstanding these definitions?

  • 3
    The definitions aren't wrong, and you're not misunderstanding them. I can't decide whether Wikipedia is misusing the term, because these portrayals can be viewed as an insult, and "hits close to home" applied to insults has a meaning that isn't quite in these definitions. Google "joke hits close to home". Apr 14, 2012 at 10:34

3 Answers 3


"Close to home" is a tricky phrase that dips into several extended meanings depending on context:

Ouch, that hits a little close to home.

The primary usage is that a joke, insult or story ends up being significantly personal. The phrase is using the description of "home" to mean something from your culture or childhood. A good example would be making a fat joke about someone who was once obese. It doesn't matter if it is no longer true; the joke hits close to home.

I am looking for something a little closer to home.

The cultural distance can come into play stronger than a personal history when making requests for things like food, art, music: "These cookies are good but I was hoping for something closer to home." In this usage the phrase would be similar to "fatherland" or "motherland" but drastically scaled down into a specific region or even family.

Regardless of prevalent counter-examples, the accusations are close to home.

And the phrase is used to describe accuracy which is what is being used in your original quote. In this case, "home" is describing the current state of home, culture or personal details. In a certain sense, this usage is implying that it should hit close to home because it is true — regardless if it actually does cause those feelings.

Heh, that's got to hit close to home.

Wow, that must be a bit close to home.

Others have claimed that the portrayals are close to home.

Most people use the phrase to explain an unexpected or extreme reaction to something. This ends up landing somewhere between the description of the feelings and commentary on the accuracy of whatever was said. If it hadn't hit close to home, why the reaction? And why would it hit close to home if it was not true?

Because of this, it is hard to call the original quote incorrect but I would agree that it is stretching the usage of "close to home" a little but I would chalk it up to trying to apply a personal level of feeling to an accusation of an entire group of people.

In an odd sense of irony, the idea that anything could hit close to home for a stereotypical actuary would prevent them from qualifying as a stereotypical actuary. So it is a strange choice of words, to be sure.


The Wikipedia reference of "close to home" is quoting Coleman, Lynn G. (Spring 2003). "Was "About Schmidt" about actuaries?"

Wiktionary and Heritage Dictionary are correct in their use of "Close to Home"

I believe Coleman's use meant "near target" or "familiar territory".

Both dictionaries use the term in the sense of affecting a person.

If you are wondering about Coleman's use of the phrase, I would go with "familiar territory".

  • Both Wiktionary and Heritage Dictionary use the term "close to home" in the same way. It affects the person's feelings or memories. It strikes a personal chord with the person.
    – mrwes
    Apr 17, 2012 at 6:01

How I'd define 'close to home' is it is an expression that you might use if a like a story or joke or speech or a priest's homily, or something in a film or on tv, or even if someone tells you how they feel and you have experienced something or thought in a similar way. This shared way of thinking or similar exprenice may take you by surprise.

For example if you say have had depression, and someone does a speech about their own depression and how it has effected their life, how they lost their because they just didn't have any motivation to get out of bed each day because they felt like nothing they could do was worthwhile and so after a few weeks of this they were fired (but after a lot of long hard struggles they recovered and they are now motivational speaker) it might take you by surprise, the mention of the illness or, aswell that they also described exactly how you felt or feel. Some people describe this feeling as someone inadvertently (un knowingly and/ or un-purposefully)

So in short, if what has just been said or done is very similar or almost the same as something one has experienced, one might say it is 'close to home' because you may not have come to terms with the situation yourself, and it is so similar to yourself that it makes you feel uncomfortable...

I realise that this was awful definition really, because half way through I realised that I had accidentally been saying almost the exactly the same to someone who commented a bit before me, so I had to changed my wording and things.... but if you want some much better definitions look at this website http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/close+to+home

  • Thanks for the detailed explanation and example! Does the "similar experience" have to be somehow negatively felt? If a friend tells me that they happily celebrated their birthday in Tahiti with a Starwars-theme cake and their 3 best friends, and surprisingly I was planning to celebrate mine the exact same way, can I say it is "close to home"? Aug 17, 2017 at 3:09

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