zero in

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The phrase possibly comes from adjusting a sighting mechanism of a firearm to minimise the discrepancy between where the sight points and where a bullet lands on a target.

Another possible source is the Cartesian coordinate system in mathematics. In the coordinate system, points are defined relative to an origin (point of reference) labeled O, which has an (x,y) coordinate pair of (0,0).


zero in (third-person singular simple present zeroes in, present participle zeroing in, simple past and past participle zeroed in)

  1. To focus one's aim; to zoom in and center (on something).
    The pilot zeroed in on the bunker and launched a guided missile.
    Zero in and find a watermark in the image.
    • 1981, USENET 15 Sep 1981 [1] on 08 Dec 2006
      When you invoke the VAX C compiler with -p for profiling it generates an assembly-language call to a profiling subroutine for which I substituted my own heap-checker, and that enabled me to zero in on a heap-violation which was caused by an array-out-of-bounds condition.
  2. To successfully narrow down a search (for).
    We have zeroed in on the source of the problem.
    See if you can zero in on the caller.
  3. To concentrate or focus one's attention (on a task).
    One member of the check fraud team will zero in on the fingerprints.
  4. (idiomatic) To converge (on).
    At the spring sale, everyone zeroed in on the bargain clothes.
    • 2019, Barney Ronay, Liverpool’s waves of red fury and recklessness end in joyous bedlam (in The Guardian, 8 May 2019)[2]
      With 79 minutes gone, the most celebrated team of the modern age had been reduced to bunch of mooching, stumbling yellow-shirted spectators. A Champions League season that had seemed to be zeroing in on another coronation for Lionel Messi had been wrenched, gleefully, the other way.

Usage notes[edit]

Often, though not exclusively, in the combination "zero in on".

Related terms[edit]