Mohamed Hafez
Community Tutor
What is the meaning of the phrasal verb "lock onto" ? Can I say " The radar locked onto a flock of tunas then fishermen steered the ship towards it"?
Aug 8, 2019 2:35 PM
Answers · 3
Yes, that’s perfect.
August 8, 2019
Dan is correct. Radar is not used underwater, let alone to find fish. Sonar or a "fish-finder" is used in water. Also non-military radars and sonars don't "lock onto" anything: they just display an image, for you to interpret any way you like. Also, only sophisticated sonar can identify the type of fish. This can however be done by knowledge of the area and depth. What can happen is that the birds hovering above a school of fish show up visually, or on radar, but not a general use of it. "school" or "shoal" of fish: Few "normal" people know the formal distinction between these two. Generally tuna form schools: thought to be some protection from dolphins. I guess, also only one fisherman steers the boat. :) The sonar showed a school of tuna. The fishermen headed directly for it. The fishing boat headed to intercept the school of tuna showing on the sonar. All the things above don't stop you using these terms, such as ""lock onto" in popular writing. Just ocassionally you will get a know-it-all who feels a need to correct. :) As Dan suggests using "flock" for fish will be noticed as strange immediately. Any native speaker will know "school". Many may know "shoal". Radars and sonars, locking-on, is a movie and book thing. Not accurate, but fine if that's what you want to portray.
August 8, 2019
Yes, you have used "lock on" correctly and naturally. In the context of something like radar, to "lock on" means "to detect something, and keep tracking it continuously." For example, "the searchlight found the plane. The pilot conducted evasive action and tried to escape the searchlight beam, but it was locked on." When you press the "search" button on a car radio, it searches through the radio band, and when it finds a strong signal, it "locks on" to the station and stops searching. A group of fish swimming together is "a school." In your sentence, "tuna" would be used in the singular as an uncountable noun. So, you would not say "a flock of tunas," you would say "a school of tuna." "Flock" can be used to birds ("a flock of seagulls") or sheep ("the shepherd watched his flock.") Finally, I have to ask: do you actually find tuna with radar? That doesn't sound right. Maybe you can find them with sonar. Maybe you can find them by using radar, but not to find the tuna directly, but to find flocks of birds flying above the tuna. I just don't know. Warning: English has an extraordinary number of specialized "collective nouns," many of which are _very_ obscure words. Of late it has become a kind of game to discover and list them. For example, there is a kind of bird called a "starling." If you say "there was a flock of starlings in our yard" in a group of people who enjoy word games, someone is apt to say, gleefully, "That's not 'a flock of starlings,' that's 'a murmuration of starlings.'" That's just showing off, nobody uses the strange collective nouns except as a kind of word game.
August 8, 2019
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