Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

“It is what it is”

It sounds to me as if this term is descended from “What it is”, a Black-American expression that goes back to the 1960s. Then it meant, “It’s part of The System”, or “It’s just part of how African-Americans have to live in the USA”, implying restriction, being the object of racism and prejudice, and adopting a philosophical and pragmatic way of living under pressure. “What it is” seemed to come from late 1960s black culture, including the Black Panthers, so-called “soul music” and more. It might come from a song. I only heard black people say it, never anyone else, and it was an expression of positive resignation, as if it also meant, “We can’t change that but we will move forward anyway.” Now, 45 years later, “It is what it is”, sounds like a more vague descendent. I think it’s weaker and less compelling because it sounds artificial, as if a movie screenwriter created it. Again, I dislike the vagueness of it, especially because wen people say it, they seem to imply it explains something, which it does not. It seems to be a weak vulgar shrug uttered by those who don’t know what else to say, and are baffled or confused themselves. I’d accept it from African-Americans, who might catch a subtlety or a meaning I don’t. But now I’ve heard it from 2 highly educated white friends, and it sounds phony coming from them. WHAT DOES IT MEAN AND IS IT EVER VALID OR WORTHWHILE?

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I teach a high-school equivalency test prep class for adults who didn't finish high school. Recently, I was reading over a student's essay in which she used "it is what it is". I'm so sick of hearing this empty, vague bit of bullshit that I circled the phrase and replied:
WHAT is what WHAT is?.

I know that my response was just as vague and unhelpful as this bit of trite street wisdom has become. I just wish that someone, anyone, would have the courage to step out from behind these empty words and state clearly what the "it" is that he or she is talking about.

Otherwise, they can shove "it" up their ass(es).

Michael Bauch Dec-31-2017

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It's actually a very complex statement it's neither nihilistic nor insane. As with all words and phrases in English language, It will mean different things to different people. If you see it as a stupid comment made by stupid or lazy people than that is just one perspective.

Regardless from where it was derived, it can simply convey a verbal shrug and submission to the way things are OR it can be a comment made to convey the terrain and which one finds himself. It doesn't necessarily mean the established obstacles are insurmountable or unchangeable but it's a good starting reference worth mentioning in a complicated situation. It makes one start at square one and allows them to take appropriate action to either navigate or overcome said obstacles.

This is obviously an implied use by someone who is either educated or experienced in some matter as opposed to someone else who may use the phrase if completely out of depth or breadth and therefore disinterested in a solution. In this way the subtlety of this phrase can be a useful tool, but it can also be abused and used as an excuse.

Yes, it is a worthwhile phrase. It is only stupid to those who are stupid.

matt1 Mar-11-2016

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I have to say the interrogation of the phrase "it is what it is" sounds rather pithy to me. But.....if you're going to set yourself up as a scholar of English, and it's history and meanings, then offer to proof read my document, and sign off with "Good luck genius" when I decline, then you should at least do a better job of proof reading your own elaborate discourse posted above. Note: "because wen people say it,"

Good luck

Richard4 Feb-24-2016

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"It is what it is" surely ranks alongside "do the math" as one of the most nonsensical phrases ever coined.

user106928 Jul-14-2015

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"It is what it is" is the verbal/written equivalent of a non-committal shrug of the shoulders; a way of saying nothing is going to change the situation. Depending on the context of the conversation and the parties involved it can be a statement of sympathetic resignation towards or about someone experiencing something that is totally beyond their control or it can be a euphemistic manner of saying "tough shit it's going to happen no matter what you say or think." In so far as language goes it virtually leaves the communicative-recipient with nearly complete responsibility to apply/supply an interpretation to its contextual use. I, for one, thoroughly dislike its use and would just as soon never encounter it again.

It was used in a text message to me in response to a situation to my response to a situation someone I care about was getting herself into, as she was kind of annoyed with my protective attitude, the bottom line being, as I understood it was that she is going to do what she is going to do no matter how concerned I am for her safety. My text response was to counter her cliche-excuse with a truism, as seen below:

She: "it is what it is"
Me: "It's hard to not be one's self"

Along with "thrown under the bus", "it is what it is" is one of my most despised expressions, from this century or any other.

When I make a comment about an issue I'm passionate about, and someone responds with "It is what...", it sounds like retreat, throwing ones hands up, folding up like a two-dollar suitcase.

It isN'T what it is!

Raise the bar!!

Thank you. ;)

TruthInSound Oct-24-2014

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Vanessa, Patience and a true desire to listen may lead you to unexpected tolerance. While recently in conversation with a neighbor regarding my health issues I made the statement, It is what it is. In this situation it means I cannot change the outcome neither do I wish to complain or constantly dwell on it by repeating the details of the condition. By the way, my neighbors response sounded much in tune with yours. I decided she hadn't been listening to me at all.

Teresia Jan-03-2014

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To Whom it may concern, the phrase "it is what it is" stands to devry from the attitude of your feelings or understandings at the time of any main point conversation. If I were to say OMG my truck is on fire how do you expect the next person next to you to react? Wow, what are you going to do? Your friend asks! There is really nothing your friend could do for you, but say OMG I am so sorry. In my mind it will suggest that in my comment to say "it is what it is"! Basically there would be nothing anyone could do but be sympathetic.

Trina Mar-05-2013

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RGB, I think your second post about Lennon lyrics is a good find, as it seems to fit perfectly the sense of the expression we've been discussing. But that website's attribution to "an Austrian poet in 1983" is woefully off base. I found mention of two published occurrences in 1970 and one in 1949 here:

providencejim Jan-30-2013

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Oh, almost forgot, the Lennon song "Scared" from the same album actually includes the line, "It is what it is." "You don't have to suffer/it is what it is …"

Can't believe 1983 is the first attributed use of this phrase. This album was from 1974.

Oh well, it is what it is.

RGB Jan-30-2013

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In the 1974 song "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out," off the album "Walls & Bridges," John Lennon sang "What it is what it is."

Not sure the way he used it really mimics the "What it is" phrase and meaning noted at the top as an African-American slang of the 1960s. Seems to lean more toward the "it is what it is" so popular today, which one website attributes to an Austrian poet in 1983.

RGB1 Jan-29-2013

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I wish to take this opportunity (having a somewhat captive audience sort of kind of) to say,
I think I am the first person to ever utter (I think that because I searched engined it and found nothing but the little bots that put it in whatever) the phrase:

All is is is is. It might need a comma. All is is, is is. Is is all is is?
Nobody ever said that, I bet. I can't stand "It is what it is" so when it's said to me
I just say All is is is is. I might say: "Is is all is is"? Because is could be more than simply is.

Please discuss.

Roseisarose Jan-10-2013

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Ok for starters it bugs me that you think the phrase was made by African Americans and can therefore not be used by white kids. Its not life african americans dont use quotes made by Europeans... Second you should really put some thought into the quote. Its really not all that vague, but even if it was a little vagueness is good because it allows for personal interpretation. The quote, however, seemed pretty open and shut. Things are what they are. The world is round. No matter how much you wish it were flat it is still round. Humans are at war. "It is what it is." Just accept it. We've been at war since the beginning and will most likely be till the end. So the quote just means that the things that are a certain way. Are that way and accepting it just makes it easier.

Tyson Dec-13-2012

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I would use "it is what it is" to mean "no comment". As in, I have no interesting editorial regarding this particular fact.

Derek I Dec-10-2012

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@providencejim - Hi. In the news today:

Roberto Mancini says Manchester United are favourites for the title - The Independent
United are title favourites - Mancini - Irish Times

Hopefully, you and I are are both reasonable speakers of English, but I'm afraid we're unlikely to find agreement on this one. Where you see a business entity making decisions, I see a group of directors sitting round a boardroom table. Here's something from the Free Dictionary:

"Usage Note: In American usage, a collective noun takes a singular verb when it refers to the collection considered as a whole, as in 'The family was united on this question' .... In British usage, however, collective nouns are more often treated as plurals."

To me, a family consists of flesh-and-blood individuals. The only time I would use singular would be when considering it as an abstract idea - "The family is the mainstay of the social system", but never when talking of a group of identifiable individuals, even if they are acting as one. There's an entertaining website called Newsroom 101, where you can do exercises based on AP style, and there wast least one question where a couple were referred to as "it". Now, that's one I can't get my head round at all.

If you're interested, there's an excellent blog devoted to these differences run by an American linguist working in Britain, and not surprisingly she has a posting on this very subject:

In this post, the bloggert takes an American to task for calling this British usage of plurals "atrocious", and reminds her of the linguist's mantra:

"Different dialects are different, but that doesn't make them better or worse than your dialect!

And goes on to say, "Both AmE and BrE have 'logical' subject-verb agreement systems, they're just a bit different in the assumptions/preferences behind the."

As you say, each to their own; we're probably agreed on 95% of the language anyway. For me, the diversity of English is something to celebrate and enjoy, whether it be the differences between AmE and BrE, or between standard Englishes and dialects. I get somewhat depressed when one or other group of English users start claiming that "their's" is superior, which occasionally happens in these pages. Linguistically, it's a load of old codswallop, and there are so much more interesting things to discuss, as we've been doing here.

Warsaw Will Dec-09-2012

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@Warsaw Will: Thank you for your contributions here, which are a hell of a lot more helpful than those of HDD, who is probably, as my son suggests, just a troll, and as you guess also a follower of British tabloids.

I wasn't familiar with the term "synesis" although the concept is quite clear. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that we all tend to accept as normal and correct what we've heard all our lives. But I still think that reasonable speakers of English might agree that if a collective noun in a certain context clearly indicates a group acting as one, as a single unit, then a singular verb is called for.

Take for example my sport example, "Arsenal are signing a new striker this week." I know I've seen statements like that reading British football (soccer to us) reports, but just now I started to google that sentence and when I got as far as "Arsenal are" the suggestion popped up "Arsenal are a selling club," which clause appears in a blog by one Thomas Hallett. Now I can see where when you're talking about the team on the field how the plural verb makes sense (even if I wouldn't use one myself). But Arsenal as a sports entity, making business decisions? To me that's a unit with no bodies involved, no image of a group of individuals doing different things as on a playing field. For me "Arsenal are a selling club" is quite unlike "Arsenal come streaming forward now in surely what will be their last attack" (which I also just found through Google). The latter I can live with, but the former bugs me.

But hey, differences like this make the world an interesting place, right?

providencejim Dec-08-2012

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@providencejim - Sorry, I hadn't noticed you'd already placed the origins of "oftentimes" in the 14th century.

Warsaw Will Dec-08-2012

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@hot diggedy dayum - this sort of comment would be more at home on YouTube than here, where we're used to something a bit more constructive (and informed). You complain about "different than", when "different from" is the most common expression on both sides of the Atlantic. Anyway we Brits sometimes say "different to"; I've been pulled up on these pages for using it. I think I tend to use "to" when it's followed by a "what" clause, and it's absolutely standard in BrE, but Americans don't like it much. So it's really just a case of "You say tomato", etc

And the use of "oftentimes" goes back to the 14th century, so is of English origins. Incidentally, neither are what I would understand as malapropisms, such as in "this monument has been erected by pubic subscription". And how can a malapropism be anything other than syntatical (sic), pray?

In any case, there are many people in Britain who don't speak Standard British English (presumably what you call "proper English") as their home language - "He were in t'pub" (Yorkshire), "That's the man what done it, ain't it?" (London), "See yous all later" (West of Scotland). So dialect is not a specifically American affair, quite the reverse in fact.

@providencejim - don't take too much notice of hot diggedy dayum's "Little Englander" comments; I imagine he's probably a Daily Mail reader.

But more interesting is your point about group nouns, such as the government, the company, the family etc. The reason we tend to use a plural verb is because we prefer to use notional agreement (aka synesis) rather than formal agreement. We usually see these institutions as groups of individuals rather than single entities. I've read somewhere (although I don't know if it's true), that in official documents, the government are always referred to as "they', so as to stress collective responsibility. We do sometimes use a singular verb when we see the group as an entity. We might say that "a new government has been elected", but that "the government are to introduce a new bill".

I know Americans are uncomfortable with this use, but it works the other way round, too. To me, sentences like "The family is coming for Christmas" or "The couple is celebrating it's (?) first wedding anniversary" sound strange and to my mind, seem illogical. It's just a different way of thinking, I suppose.

Warsaw Will Dec-08-2012

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We owe a debt of gratitude to hot diggedy dayum for bringing a refined British perspective to the discussion. If I might though, as a mere American, register a couple of quibbles about his erudite comment. First, although the original poster mentions African American lingo from the 1960s as a possible source for "It is what it is," neither he nor anyone else here mentions or even implies this has to do with Ebonics--and no one bitches or moans about this possible original use. Second, I think that most posters here are US residents (sorry, this was decided for most of by our parents), and we come to this site because we care about how people use the language. Third, I suspect that most of us avoid saying "different than," but "oftentimes" is in fact a coinage from the 14th century, according to a reputable source, and while it apparently is frowned upon by certain English folk it is quite acceptable here in the States ( Now, hot-diggedy, if you'd care to enlighten us poor Americans as to the British rationale for acting as if collective nouns always take plural verbs (as in "Arsenal are signing a new striker this week"), we should be most grateful.

providencejim Dec-07-2012

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Fuck me, Americans whinging about the English language! ...whatever next!
As if you haven't fucking ridden roughshod over all reason with syntatical malapropisms lke "different than" and "oftentimes" for, fuck's sake. Honestly... learn to speak English properly as it's spoken in England, before bitching and moaning about Ebonics.

hot diggedy dayum Dec-07-2012

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Anybody listen to old reggae? "T'is what it T'is Man!" I used to think "it is what it is" was some cool shit to everybody and their mom uses this phrase. What pisses me off the most about this phrase is when people are too stupid or lazy to respond with an answer or comment so they just resort to "Well, it is what it is." Bullshit! The Damn phrase is being overused and abused. Whaddagonnado!

DNA Oct-09-2012

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I was looking up something about the origin of this phrase an stumbled a upon this. Find it absolutely hilarious. Why do people have to make such big issues out of nothing. Racial?Really? The people that I know and use that phrase (many that are white and educated,btw) are merely expressing the fact that they are dealing with a difficult situation that they can do nothing about. So you deal with it.

Igbird Sep-30-2012

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I am curious. For those of you who seem to have an issue with this, what about the old and familiar saying, "what's done is done"? Surely the meaning of this adage is clear, yes? If you think about it, they mean almost the same thing. "...Done...done" is the action-verb version; "" is the state-of-being version.

porsche Aug-27-2012

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I was born and raised in england ,and this phrase has been used by my family and their family before them.We never had to question the meaning .It just is what it is.

lol1 Aug-25-2012

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I have seen "Id est quod id est" used numerously in Catholic discussions. It might be a very old phrase. That will make its translation a very old phrase as well.

Kora Jul-09-2012

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jonthecelt, I know someone with Crohn's and sympathize. And I can readily see how appropriate "it is what it is" can be for your condition. I cannot understand why some posters have such a negative reaction to the locution (which, by the way in reference to prior comments, really has nothing to do with any pope or John Galt, so beloved of myopic Ayn Randites).

providencejim Jun-30-2012

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'It is what it is' is sentence with a noun clause (what it is).

Jasper Jun-09-2012

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"It is what it is" became a fairly widespread expression shortly after Pope John Paul II offered his comment on the Mel Gibson movie "The Passion of the Christ". Speaking about the movie, he said "It is as it was"; 5 words, 11 letters.

Ken Beresford May-14-2012

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Who is John Galt ?

shebornik Apr-14-2012

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Well, william2010bc, I'm not sure we should be getting back to "basics" with someone who omits necessary punctuation in his post (should be "let's" and "basics, please" and "conditions are," or has issues with verbs (should be "which seem to be" and "If it were black slang"). Then there's the gratuitous note of racism at the end. And that's not even dealing with the core of your post, which clarifies nothing.

providencejim Feb-04-2012

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Hey, lets get back to the basics please. "It is what it is" could easily be rephrased as:

"Things are what they are" or "Conditions are what the conditions are" which seems to

be relatively easy to understand and define.... If it was black slang the phrasing would

be: "Conditions is what conditions is".......

william2010bc Feb-03-2012

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"It is what it is" still is a favorite phrase in the NY financial community, especially among stock traders (whoever's left in this age of HFT algos). It's used to end a conversation after complaints from the other side of the dialogue. I'd always heard it was an in-joke among the Jewish population, likening the stock market to G-d ("I am what I am").

Marcus Goldman Dec-14-2011

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First, in his definition, ps60s denegrates people who use the phrase; showing prejudice. He also contrasts between African-Americans and "whites"; also conveying prejudice.

Regarding the meaning, like other phrases, it has several. It is based on the context; just as the multi-use F-word. I often use it to mean that the given situation should be seen at face valus (the result), and not to be analyzed further.

Marty G Dec-02-2011

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While it is cliche, it is not evocative of a limited vocabulary. I know several well educated people with broad vocabularies that use this phrase. Granted, I am in the military where this phrase is used due to necessity. Oft times, one has to accept the situation and say "it is what it is." It is basically a polite way to say "F' it, drive on."

Rick F. Nov-23-2011

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What ever it means, I HATE IT!!! it is NOT what it is!! whomever is saying it, CAN or COULD change it if they wanted to!!!

I think it just shows comformism and lack of will to change situations....

Vanessa Nov-06-2011

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That's true, it is Irish. I looked it up on a site this morning that said it was Irish. Thanks for the vivid dialogue, Adam.

Hairy Oct-27-2011

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I always thought this was an Irish expression? I've always understood it to mean an acceptance of things you can't change.

A: "I'm sorry to hear your house burned down."
B: "It is what it is."

Adam2 Oct-26-2011

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That's a classic comment, Adw! People have been saying that about the younger generation for centuries! Haha! You're a living illustration of the fact that things never change.

Hairy Oct-26-2011

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Cliche, it is what it is, just another saying by those who have a limited vocabulary and are challenged in the English language. Our society and especially this generation has lost the skill of proper language and social skills, but are excellent in profane explicits in their everyday communication.

Adw Oct-26-2011

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I hate to share this, cause I am still hurting from my husband divorcing me at this moment, but when friends ask him about the divorce, he always says, "It is what It is" I guess. that phrase makes me feel pretty sad, it makes me feel like he just never cared about me, in other words whatever!! like I never meant anything to him. that my whole marriage wasn't real. ;-( So, yes. I kind of hate that say. at this moment!!

monica pangburn Oct-24-2011

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providencejim is right. It comes from the eastern coast of the U.S. The origin is seen in the following typical exchange:

Guy #1: Damn, dat girl's got a bangin' body!
Guy #2: But 'er face!

Someone took Guy #2's statement and modified it so we can now say that a girl is a butterface. Very sexist, yet oh so funny!

Hairy Oct-20-2011

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haston, your query about "Butter Face" intrigued me, as I'd never heard it before. So I checked UrbanDictionary dot com and found it's spelled there as one word, "butterface," and is indeed something you'd hear at the beach (at least from callow youths). It would apply to a female in a swimsuit (or whatever) who has a great body yet an unattractive face--that is, Everything's great but-her-face. So she's a "butterface." Males can be crude, but it is an interesting neologism--a noun fashioned from a phrase.

providencejim Oct-19-2011

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Hey guys....I asked a former NASA scientist - who moved to TX from NY in the early 90's- why he used the phrase. He said too many people in TX tend clarify a situation with an analogy...or long drawn out story or link one unrelated situation with another. For example 1. Hotter than Hell. Hotter than a cat on a hot ten roof.Colder than the anatomical part of a mythological figure (“colder that a witches’ tit”) Instead he preferred the temp is 110 with 95 percent humidity...and it is hot... it is what it is...
For example 2- "Oh no! Sally turned in her notice, with her position she may know something the company is up for sale and all our jobs are threatened." The two may not be related. Sure Sally turned in her notice AND we do not know why...."it is what it is" all by itself without embellishment... until additional informaiton is uncovered.
Now you guys can help me... What does "Butter Face" mean? It has something to do with the youth watching the girls at the beach.

haston Oct-19-2011

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I would be concerned about the legality of posting something from the New York Times here without permission. I think that could lead to trouble for both the blog owner and the poster--be careful!

Hairy Oct-16-2011

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Ce n'est pas du tout fin, mon ami, William Safire. And to say "c'est fin," as Christ did on the cross (though of course he didn't use French) seems a bit much, now, doesn't it? But thanks for the last word on this thread. Alors, c'est vraiment fin!

Hairy Oct-16-2011

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It Is What It Is

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Published: March 5, 2006

'"We went through it thoroughly yesterday," said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, somewhat testily after being badgered recently about the Cheney hunting accident. "It is what it is, and I think it's time to move on."

"I made a mistake," said the pop icon Britney Spears, who was photographed driving with her baby son on her lap instead of strapped in a seat, "and so it is what it is, I guess."

it is what it is merely means as the poster of this blog stated (we can't change that but we will move forward anyway). It is not new maybe the manner u here it has changed but it is as it has always been. An expression expressing submission and acceptance pass on through it. C'est fin.

New York Times Oct-13-2011

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Actually, Mr. Are You All Retarded?, why would you waste your time posting if you really thought we were all retarded. Your neediness is obvious, so I just want to let you know that you are safe here and that we will validate you and tell you that you are smarter than your daddy recognized :)

BrockawayBaby Sep-06-2011

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@ are you all retarded?

Your response is brilliant. So deep and insightful. What a brain you must have!

BrockawayBaby Sep-06-2011

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'Everything is what it is, and not another thing" I suspect that is where it came from.

are you all retarded? Sep-06-2011

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Not sure as I read it only in English but I will try and find out. I can't find where it is in there on Google... sorry

Matt P Aug-25-2011

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Matt P: Interesting observation, raising for me two questions: 1) As Sartre wrote in French, what exactly were his original words for "It is what it is," and 2) where in "Being and Nothingness does the expression occur? Oh, and a third question: Do you know if Bill Belichick ever read Sartre?

providencejim Aug-25-2011

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One of the ways in which this phrase became famous, and I think it was without a conscious effort, was that it was part of Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" written in 1943. It is one of his most profound works detailing the inner thoughts he had on existentialism. I won't go so far as to say he coined it, but Indiana Jones didn't invent those hats either, he just sold a lot of them.

Matt P Aug-25-2011

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It simply implies acceptance.

avulcanjedi Aug-24-2011

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And be careful about using the acronym, BSL. It may be unintentionally unkind since it includes the letters BS. Those who took Black people as objects of study, and named the language of those studied, may have been unaware of connotations that go along with calling something BS Language.

BrockawayBaby Aug-16-2011

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"What it is" is a greeting that was used by African Americans/Blacks in the '70s. It is equivalent to "Hi/Hello", "Good evening", "What's up", etc. "It is what it is" is an entirely unrelated expression.

BrockawayBaby Aug-16-2011

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I am sorry that you feel this weak and vulgar. It may seem strange, but I found some comfort and acceptance when going through marital breakup, when someone said it to me. I was running through the 'could have, should have and would have,' and my confidant, who'd been there before said "It is what it is." Kinda became my motto.

Tony D Aug-14-2011

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"It is what it is" simply invites us into aligning ourselves with the reality of any particular situation: "might as well acknowledge that it's raining and deal with it; it is what it is."

shema711 Aug-10-2011

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Thanks for your input, itiswhatitis. It's clear this expression means different things to different people, but your take is closer to what I've thought about its use than some of the other interpretations here.

providencejim Aug-09-2011

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I had an ex-boyfriend that would say to me "it is what it is" and I would take offense to it. As if he was implying that I should "shut up and get over it". A little overly sensitive of me, to say the least. I later realized he was simply saying that things are the way they are and that we can't control everything all the time. I no longer think of this phrase to sound rude or apathetic but as a way of giving some comfort. "It is what it is" means whatever you want it to mean.
PLEASE do not scold my grammar or general english skills. I was not an english student. I just came across this blog and felt the need to add my two cents. Thank you.

itiswhatitis Aug-08-2011

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I googled "It is what it is" because I think it's a cop out phrase so as to not deal with the situation at hand. I loved how you stated it's "an expression of positive resignation". People give up too easily in life and don't fight for truth, or fairly for that fact. I enjoyed every word you wrote even if it did come across somewhat racist. But what the spoke from your heart and that's truly how it is!

Brooke Aug-05-2011

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I agree with kellyjohnj. I use the phrase and have heard it used in terms of saying "you can't go back and change the past". Basically, what's done is done and, that being the case, it is what it is. Also, "a rose is a rose" comes to mind.

Savannah Is Jul-18-2011

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Im so tired of this phrase being used. Everywhere I turn, in banks at the grocery store, waiting in the doctors office, all I hear is that phrase. It's like people don't even want to try to converse anymore. It's being used back and forth between people, like I'm watching a volley of tennis. Sometimes I feel I'm going to scream if I hear one more person utter those 5 little words.

Arik esquilin Jul-06-2011

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Darn, Red, I was going to say that Patriots coach Bill Belichick was definitely the originator of the phrase, and I see you've already done that. My tongue would be in cheek, but it is quite possible we are both right. I'm pretty sure he was the first person I heard use the expression, as a response to, say, a question like "Coach, did your decision to call for that fake punt play a role in the loss today?" And since hearing it first from BB it seemed then to pop out of the mouths of numerous coaches and eventually players. I see it as a way of saying, "There might be any number of things to say about that, but some things you just can't explain, so let's just let it go."

The last time I heard the phrase used was by a cop called to an accident scene who discovered that the slightly injured party did not wish to file a complaint. The officer turned to the other party, shrugged, and said, "OK, it is what it is, I guess," and got back in his car.

providencejim May-01-2011

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Really? People think this is an African-American phrase? Did anyone ever hear of a little song called "Que Sera Sera"? Whatever will be, will be, sound familiar? "It is what it is" is just the present tense of the same phrase.

All327 Apr-27-2011

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Obviously no sports fans reading this.

i have been hearing this for years.

The New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick may be origin for the current use of the phrase. He is a little hostile to the media and began using the phrase to evade answering questions.

Red1 Apr-07-2011

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Firstly, "what it is" is what it is. There is no elaborate hidden meaning. What it is-what's going on- what it do- what the lick read- what you on Joe-how's it hanging- what's the business, it varies by region, basically affectionate sincere concern for fellow kidnap are you doing, what's going on in your life, God please let be good.. We laugh at you educated white guys trying to interpret black culture as if it were the Rosetta Stone. Denied education for sooo long, early Africans in America used simplicity and common sense. Something our present culture retains. IT IS WHAT IT IS, is not vague,there is no grey area, no room for interpretation. It simply is as it appears to be. And "what it is" will never die, I used it today.

blackguypov Apr-04-2011

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Interesting exchange of conversation. I had a friend ask me what I thought of this statement "It is what it is" from a grammatical perspective since I am an English teacher. I was a bit stumped, and asked my self if this was a grammatically correct statement; I chose to analyze it as such:
It (pronoun) is (linking verb) what (adjective meaning whatever) it (pronoun) is (linking verb).

It appears to be a weak and somewhat vague but acceptable statement grammatically. I would not allow my students to use it in their formal writing b/c it has slang and idiomatic qualities. I am of the school of thought that words, dialect, and idioms can be used as a person speaks and will add rich flavor to a conversation, but they are not usually appropriate for use in formal writing.

When speaking, I like to use it b/c it is stating that I must accept my circumstances and that I am choosing to move on despite my circumstances. I suppose it is overused and could be perceived as a a silence filler. The comment made about it being a New York slang word seems an appropriate assessment.

Emily1 Feb-07-2011

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People are reading too much into the phrase. While everyone has a different interpretation of it, I believe it simply says to view things as they are and not over-complicate things because a situation is what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.

b_tanya Nov-24-2010

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The first reference to the phrase, ' is what it is,' that I've come across is from 1943, in a New York State hermit's letter to the editor of an Adirondack Mountain newspaper. The hermit was named Noah John Rondeau, and he concluded his letter with this particular phrase.

George1 Nov-03-2010

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Yes, RIch. It's amazing just how many seeming profundities are really just disguised tautologies. Politicians are particularly adept at spouting long and meaninless tautological diatribes creating the illusion of brilliance.

porsche Aug-13-2010

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Is "it is what it is" a tautology?

Rich1 Aug-12-2010

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"It Is What It Is"

A simply lazy way of explaining "nothing".

Nothing and I mean NOTHING simply "Is what it is"!

That would mean (someTHING?) is nothing and there is no such thing as
nothing! It is a word without meaning.

I looked this up because I am sick of hearing this phrase spoken by
people from every walk of life.

Nothing is Nothing and therefore by it's own definition does not exist.

gkedge1 Jun-28-2010

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I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with Black English Vernacular, especially "what it is?" which is just another way of saying what's happening, what's going on, what's up? And I think, Roger, you are tilting at windmills because the phrase is actually very useful when people are trying to read too much into a situation or trying to put some spin or nuance that they have created. So chill out on this particular saying because you're reading too much into it--it is what it is!

I also like Tony's definition (10 March 2010).

nwolf202 May-03-2010

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In a column by J.E. Lawrence in the Nebraska State Journal in 1949 about the way that pioneer life molded character: “New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without apology.”

Obviously the idiom is here to stay. It should also be noted it is used quite frequently in the business world.

Jenn1 May-02-2010

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If you locate the first white person who said it please let me know. I would like to put it back up their ass and leave it there.

jak.deth Mar-30-2010

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I can't say I know what the origin of the phrase is either. But sure as shootin' it either packs a lot of subtle meaning for people or it is incredibly trite. At it's worst - used often in the business world, this incredibly versatile phrase can be loosely translated as "Suck it up loser."

hotfrm Mar-20-2010

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This phrase is as old as I can remember (in excess of 30 years) and definitely a part of the New Yorker lexicon and if you look back at some of the people that have been linked with this phrase in the media over the years (i.e. John Fox, Coach, Carolina Panthers) you will see that they spent some time in the New York area.

I am not sure you can attribute it to any particular ethnicity as, in most urban environments, dialects and slang tends to bleed over; however, this phrase was (and is) particularly popular in the Italian/Sicilian communities. As someone mentioned... it is similar to c'est la vie in that life is what life is.

You want to respond to the question but as a New Yorker you know that people are asking to be polite... they don't REALLY want to hear how your is... it is just small talk.

If I had to define, 'It is what it is!' it would be the short equivalent of saying:

'The situation is not ideal, in fact it could probably be better but complaining about it is only going to waste all of our time and won't actually do anything to improve it so I am just going to press on with whatever it is that is not ideal about this situation and make the best of it, hoping that it will improve over time, either of it's own accord or by eventual action... beyond that... what can I do about it? I can't really complain.'

You can say all that... or you can say 'Eh... it is what it is!'

santavez Mar-10-2010

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"It is what it is" is not slang at all. It consists of perfectly good English words used in their regular senses.

Nigel1 Feb-22-2010

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"It is what it is" sounds a lot like one of those empty responses we give (or get) when one party in a conversation is uninterested in actually talking. I relate it to my pet peeve "it's going" as an answer (a non-answer, really) to "How's it going?" or How are you? Fine. They are simply socially acceptable silence fillers: a way to fool ourselves and others that we are being cordial.


Susan1 Jan-09-2010

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It also occurs to me that "it is what it is" is probably related to the phrase "what is done is done." Again, nothing to do with Black Standard English. Just an old, presumably white European, English expression. Even biblical, perhaps. Or Roman? Can I get a "facet facevis" or some (real) Latin expression, anyone?

John4 Jan-08-2010

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Roger - I am no expert on black standard english, but I need to say something about it to make a larger point. I suspect that the phrase "What it is?" is a tongue in cheek expression with multiple uses. It announces the speaker to be an unabashed, unapologetic black american. Kind of a statement affirming the speaker's right to be black and not be pressured to conform to standard american english. The grammar seems to relate to a common grammar in BSL where the verb and pronoun are incorrectly (re std engl) not reversed when turning a statement into a question. So while we would expect the statement "Tell me what it is" to be rearranged when asked as a question, "What is it?", the BSL speaker keeps the word order intact and says "What it is?". I can't go farther than that on this expression. Someone familiar with the rules and history of BSL should address it. But I went out this far on a limb to make the point that there is reason to believe that the expression "what it is?" has nothing whatsoever to do with the very standard english sounding phrase "it is what it is."

First, this second expression is a statement, not a question. So the grammar doesn't match. Next, it would appear, regardless of who coined it, to be an emphatic kind of phrase. The speaker could easily choose to say "I resign myself to this situation," but that lacks pith. And by repeating "it is", the phrase strenghtens the speaker's view that the situation is a hard reality, and this assists with communicating that feeling of resignation to the listener. I'd say the expression has more to do with the expression "just accept it for what it is"--a totally standard english expression--than with any BSL-speak.

As for your complaint about vagueness, I don't see that. And as to your concern that we help language change for the better, I don't know, I think you just have to enjoy the ride, bumps and all. Good thing no young adults rely on my use of expressions. I'm a dinosaur.

John4 Jan-08-2010

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Not necessarily first time the expression was used.

What are you saying about white people? I don't catch the humor there, Miss Cordova. Please share it with all of us.

ps60s Dec-23-2009

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ha. You're funny.....2 educated white friends.....

Maybe that's because this phrase was coined by Al Gore. From Flak Magazine, " It was in this spirit that Al Gore invoked the phrase after winning the popular vote and possibly the electoral tally as well: "I strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court decision and the way in which they interpreted and applied the law. But I respect the rule of law, so it is what it is.' "

It is what it is is simply calling a spade a spade - do you remember that one?

lorizrn Dec-23-2009

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Only intuition.

No dig.

Some slang gradually (or suddenly) becomes part of the lexicon. At the least, slang affects other words and language as a whole. Here's an example I can't prove, but neither can you disprove it.

"No way!" may likely have made it into the common language around the time of 1966 or so, when Aretha Franklin recorded a song called "Ain''t No Way". The phrase itself already existed but she made it popular. All this time later it's almost Standard English, and newspaper columnists write:

Ain't no way Tiger Woods will get over this one."

No way will Obama ave an easy time passing the legislation.

Language is constantly changing, but I believe we should try to help it change for the letter, in a positive, enriching way, not in a sloppy or imprecise or VAGUE way.

ps60s Dec-22-2009

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I don't claim to know the origin of the phrase "it is what it is." I think it is of relatively recent coinage, as I have only of late heard it, and it, being essentially slang, is soon to die away – as did the phrase "what it is" three decades ago. Few slang words or phrases outlast their generation of origin, except in ironic or sarcastic usage. Dig? The meanings of the phrases "what it is" and "it is what it is" are too divergent to assume a common parentage. I would accept evidence to the contrary. Have you any?

douglas.bryant Dec-22-2009

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That's expressing vagueness. What is that?

You say "It is what it is" does not descend from "What it is", and that you'd need evidence to believe otherwise. The way you chose to say that, you disagree with yourself. What you actually mean is you don't agree, but it would be better if you had a reason. As it is, you sound superior, as if you can judge what means this and that without reasons.

Furthermore, if you communicate vagueness, how will anyone else understand that except very vaguely? That's what lovers do, and close friends, but the rest of us need meaning in our communication. Otherwise we get in trouble one way or another, because vagueness from Person A means Person B has to guess at Person A's meaning.

Imagine if your Boss is vague with you and you have to interpret what he or she means. Imagine your credit card company is vague with you, but you have to pay them or grow deeper into debt. If a criminal on the street stops you and says something vague to you, you'd better know what he means and give it to him, or else you may be beaten or shot.

Again, there may be a perception of "coolness" and laid back quality in being vague, but the value of it is illusive. No worthy artist is ever vague, except in her inferior work. (By the way, classically "cool" means "oppressed but calm and apparently indifferent", deriving probably from African-American jazz musicians in the first half of the 20th Century.)

Do you think the expression, "It is what it is" descends (comes from) no source at all, and was uttered or spoken by someone with complete novelty? That is has no basis whatsoever in the past? I'd challenge that assumption because most of our terms and cliches do come from a previous proposition or idea. Send me some and I'll try to puzzle them out.

ps60s Dec-22-2009

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The phrase "it is what it is" does not, as you put it, "descend from 'what it is'." I'd need evidence to believe otherwise.

You say you dislike the "vagueness of it," but isn't that the point? It's similar to "c'est la vie" – such is life. At times we need vagueness. It's nice to have the words to express it, trendy though they might be.

douglas.bryant Dec-22-2009

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I don't understand what you're saying.

ps60s Dec-20-2009

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"I’d accept it from African-Americans, who might catch a subtlety or a meaning I don’t. But now I’ve heard it from 2 highly educated white friends..."

Uhh, really? Really?

nbcomments Dec-20-2009

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