Etymology Usage

One and the same

Q: As I catch up on missed reading, I see that Anna Fifield, writing in the Financial Times, referred to the “opposing” Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies in Washington on Oct. 30 as essentially “one in the same.” I would have written “one and the same.”

A: You’re right. Anna Fifield should have written “one and the same,” not “one in the same.” The two expressions are not one and the same.

But the Financial Times writer is not alone here. “One in the same” is an extremely common misunderstanding of an expression handed down from ancient times.   

The phrase “one and the same,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “used as a more emphatic form of ‘the same.’ ”

Published examples of its use in English date back to 1531, but it ultimately comes from classical Latin (unus et idem) and an earlier version in Greek.

This example from Newsweek in 2001 is a good illustration of the usage: “The two groups are not one and the same … but their issues often overlap.”

Our guess is that the “and” in the phrase gets contracted in speech. People hear it spoken as “one ’n’ the same,” so they think it ought to be written as “one in the same.”

This reminds us of an ad we clipped from a newspaper years ago. A store was advertising a sale on “Chip ’n’ Dale” furniture.

(The store’s ad manager confused “Chippendale” with Chip and Dale, the Disney cartoon chipmunks.)

Check out our books about the English language