English can be very tricky, as so many words can sound very similar (or even identical). This becomes even more problematic in the context of idioms, since it’s so easy to disregard the individual words that make up the saying. That’s how we end up with incorrect phrasings like “one in the same” and “in this day in age.” People just mix and match what they think are the right words. Or is it mix and mash?

Let’s start with a definition.

The English idiom “mix and match” refers to the action of choosing and combining items together that complement one another in some way. These items were not put together as a pre-packaged combination, so it’s up to you to pick the individual pieces. You’re usually offered an assortment at some sort of discount.

At the grocery store, for instance, you might see a promotion where you can mix and match your favorite bulk candies together for one low price. There might be a bin of chocolate, another bin of saltwater taffy, another bin with sour soothers, and one more with jawbreakers. You’re not restricted to just one of these. You can mix and match your own unique combination.

Another popular example might be at a clothing store. Perhaps they have a certain style of shirt available in many different colors. You can mix and match several of these shirts together for a bulk discount. Maybe one shirt is $15, but two shirts cost $25, three shirts cost $35, and five shirts cost $50. You don’t have to buy them all in the same color. You mix and you match.

In going through some editing work recently, my client wrote “mix and mash” instead of “mix and match.” I think this was the first time I’ve encountered this specific error, but it’s also not all that surprising. Think about what you do to make mashed potatoes. You get several potatoes, you mix them together, and then you mash it all up.

We also talk frequently about “mashups” online. Someone might remix two popular songs together or they may take characters from one television show and insert them into another program. They’re mixing elements from different sources and mashing them together. But still, the common term is not “mix and mash.”

English is a strange language and it doesn’t always make sense. You’ve just got to keep mixing and matching those words together in new and creative ways.