Focus in on something

Hello,

Mr Robert Hartwell Fiske is the author of several books about language.
In one of his books (Dimwit's Dictionary) he defines the use of "IN" in "to focus IN on" as "wretched redundancy" and suggests that IN ought to be avoided.
Since most of the English dictionaries suggest only "to focus on", I assumed that throwing "IN" in was just an example of poor English.
However I've noticed that Google has almost 4 million hits for "focus in on" and even some PhD used it in an article titled "Writing and presenting your thesis or dissertation"
http://www.learnerassociates.net/dissthes/

This will be one of the few opportunities you may have in your professional life to focus in on a research topic that is really of your own choosing.

Is the use of both IN and ON acceptable?
Does the preposition IN give a slightly different meaning to the standard expression "focus on" or is it really just redundant?

Thank you
 
  • Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    I hear them slightly differently, but I don't know if this is idiosyncratic. To me, "focus on" in this context means "confine the discussion to", while "focus in on" means "to discuss in great detail".

    The image I have is photographic. I can focus on an object quite far away. If I want a close-up, I focus in on it. (I'm not a photographer. It's just that way in my mind.)
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The first few times I encountered it at work I would have been surprised at the jargon, and possibly changed it, before learning how common it was. It is possible to distinguish the two senses, but I don't think many of the people who write it are actually being that nuanced.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Interestingly enough, that has always been my understanding of "focus in on" as well. I have no idea why. Probably just because it is similar to "zoom in on something."

    I agree.

    I was going to say you zoom in and focus on. In this sort of context I think that is exactly what is being expressed when saying focus in on; and so I would say it is not a redundancy.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Striclty speaking you cannot focus "in" only "on". So in that regard he is correct. I think he missed the understood "zoom" (or perhaps I am deceiving myself and there is no understood "zoom").

    Why don't you write to him and ask him if, in light of this discussion, he still believes that "in" is redundant.

    This link enables you to e-mail to the author: http://www.vocabula.com/RobertHartwellFiske.asp
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Interestingly enough, that has always been my understanding of "focus in on" as well. I have no idea why. Probably just because it is similar to "zoom in on something."

    "Focus in" makes sense photographically because when focusing on a close object, the lens is normally extended outwards, i.e coming closer to the subject.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    But, in your opinion, it doesn't outside a photography context?

    I think the metaphor is a photography one (although it could be a binocular one in which case a lot of this would not apply).

    When I used to shoot macro photos (close ups), I would set my focus in advance and move the camera in and out until it was sharp. So I would focus in/out with the camera instead of focusing with the lens barrel.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    But, in your opinion, it doesn't outside a photography context?

    Not at all. That's what metaphors do, i.e. use a real situation to provide imagery for the one at hand.

    Sometimes, however, the original thought is lost and the metaphor becomes an idiom to some.

    I was merely supporting Nunty's post.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think Robert Hartwell Fiske was making this point regarding redunancy:

    You focus on something.

    The 'something' in discussion is either in focus or out of focus.

    So in his mind I would surmise the on & in are redundant.

    If your focus was off, and the subject was out of focus you would not say it was off out of focus.
     
    Top