zero in on
zero in on (something)
1. To aim or direct one's line of vision at something. Can you have the camera zero in on that tree? The soldiers zeroed in on the enemy bunker.
2. To get incrementally closer to something, such as a physical location or the understanding of a concept. Authorities were able to zero in on the compound by using satellite imagery. It has taken multiple drafts, but I think I'm finally zeroing in on the right tone for my novel.
3. To focus one's attention on something. Critics seem to have really zeroed in on a single scene in the film, and I think they're missing some important points elsewhere. I love how my toddler zeroes in on new words when she hears them.
zero in on
1. Aim precisely at a target, as in They zeroed in on the last snipers. [c. 1940]
2. Direct one's attention to, concentrate or focus on, as in We must zero in on the exact combination of ingredients, or The whole class zeroed in on the new assignment. This usage transfers aiming a firearm to directing one's attention. [Mid-1900s]
3. Converge on, close in on, as in The children zeroed in on the electric train display. [Mid-1900s]