I’ve recently purchased a few n-in-1 items, and returned one because I did not understand how it qualified as an n-in-1 item. Which got me pondering on the meaning of n-in-1, and &/or.

&/or is a very convoluted concept whose meaning(s) change depending on the domain of inquiry. Mr. Big Food and I have heated arguments about this several times each year. Neither of us ever changes his/her mind and so we move on. (Thank The Good Lord Almighty we both have the same conception of the Oxford comma!)

Let’s think about some n-in-1 items so that we may gain a thorough understanding of what’s at issue– and at stake.

A phone (not a landline) is the ultimate n-in-1 thing. It does a whole bunch of stuff and you can do a lot of that stuff all at the same time– where same does not necessarily mean exact instant in time but pretty close. Mr. Big Food calls me to ask what your number is, I say hang on, push a button, then another, and then tell him I’ve just texted it to him. Again, I’m taking the individual actions of answering, talking, looking at contacts, and so forth in linear time using my phone for all of them. One the other hand, one could listen to music while checking a weather app. So my sense is that no one would disagree that the phone is an n-in-1 thing.

A multi-tool, even one as simple as the one-piece Gerber Shard, is another. I can’t really conceive of using its multiple tools at the same instant in time, but it’s also the case that I do not give up the functionality of the flathead screw driver just because I have a knife blade open.

A power strip with multiple AC and USB ports, a pasta cooker with steamer basket, a file hub that transfers files and also functions as a power bank and wifi router, shampoo + conditioner in one bottle– all of these strike me, at least at the level of common sense, as being legitimately n-in-1 things. One thing, though it may be of several parts, that facilitates your doing n1 & n2 & possibly n3, n4, … nn all at or near the same point in time.


Critically, you do not surrender the thing’s potential for n1 just because you are at this instant using that thing as n2.


Or is different. I’m arguing that or things do not qualify as n-in-1 things.

A sofa that converts to a bed is not, IMHO, an n-in-1 thing. It is either a sofa or it is a bed. It cannot easily be flipped back and forth. Sure, as a sofa it still has the potential to be a bed. But consider how much work is involved in realizing that potential. Clear some space, pull it out, get the sheets and pillows… . Oh wait! I need a sofa right now!

The same sort of reasoning leads me to declare that a wet/dry shop vac is not n-in-1. If operated in dry mode you’ve got to empty it (unless you want a disgusting mess), find the wet filter, take it apart put the filter on… . Either dry or wet.

And on it goes. A baby’s highchair to– eventually– toddler work chair and table workstation, blanket to pillow, paracord bracelet to length of paracord. None of these is n-in-1, according to me.

Alas, the folks who write Amazon blurbs did not consult with me.