This phrase makes me wince, screw my mouth up in disgust and want to throw a hissy-fit. I decided to think about this phrase in order to figure out why it causes such a violent action in me.
Taking the phrase simply as it states, it becomes redundant, stating the obvious and a waste of breath.
Lets see how this plays out: Here is a rock. It is a rock and not a pizza. Here is a pizza. It is a pizza not a rock. Therefore a rock is a rock, and a pizza is a pizza. So when use the term / word: rock (or pizza) we already know what it is. That is why we learn vocabulary – in order to know what it is that it is! Simple.
However, the above words identify a whole family of words linked to “rock” or”pizza”. Therefore, as an umbrella term these words work well. But sometimes we need more description to answer queries we may have that provide greater levels of detail.
We have a rock. We have an igneous rock (how is it formed?); We have a meteorite rock (Where is it from?) We have a precious stone (what is it’s appearance and value?) We have a standing stone. (What was / is it used for?)
In spite of all the possible combinations of type, the naming of categories and descriptions; at the end of the day they are all “what they are”, It is an Emerald. It is not basalt. It is a meteorite from space. It is not a 5000 year old standing stone. But they all fall under the umbrella of “rock”.
Similarly we can categorise and give descriptions and names that fall under the umbrella “Pizza”. (Where from? What does it consist of? Is it savoury or sweet? and so on.)
Once again, a Vegan Pizza is not one with meat. An Italian Pizza is traditional and not from the USA. And I certainly do not imagine my pizza having a hamburger on top!! And I would know it would have that on top because according to the name and description – (Yup…..wait for it….) – “It is what it is”
I tried to think of something that stands alone, and has only one version of itself. This seems to be virtually impossible. The closest I have found is this object:
Any Idea??? (Only oldies will have a chance at guessing!)
It is a Typewriter Eraser!! It seems to have no variations of its shape and design. I can only find two colours and two makers (Faber-Castell and Eberhard). There is a renowned American sculptor – Claes Oldenburg who created large, soft sculptures of everyday objects. One of his earlier and very successful creation was of a Typewriter Eraser. It was sold in 1977 for $1,085,000 by Christies.
In spite of its peculiarity, guess what? It is what it is!
I am aware that this is all very practical and worldly. So I need to look at it in other ways to fathom my discontent with the phrase.
Where did it originate from? And in what context?
According to the New York Times, the phrase it is what it is appeared as early as an 1949 article by J.E. Lawrence in The Nebraska State Journal. Lawrence used the phrase when describing the difficulty faced during frontier-era life in Nebraska:
“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.”
However, it was not used much until 2004 (USA Today article by Gary Mihoces), mostly in relation to sport and losing. I suppose that this is a means of deflecting the anguish of losing – and sports is extremely competitive. It just “isn’t on to lose. Nowadays, with the advent of video tapes, TV, and now the 3rd” referee to provide slow motion, vital decisions that the human eye cannot detect (especially with a cricket ball travelling at over 100 km per hour); it enables deep critique of the match and highlights of areas to improve. Therefore, whilst there may have been some room in the past for designating the loss of an important match somewhat to fate, or the referee; nowadays there is ample opportunity to study the errors made in order to avoid them in the next match.
And here comes my conflict:
The situation, circumstance, or outcome has already happened or been decided or established, so it must be accepted even if it is undesirable. Look, we lost the game, but it is what it is. All we can do is work even harder for the next one.Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
I cannot get away from my emotion that this diverts and sidetracks attention away from reality, and more importantly, from accepting the truth of the event. To me, it is like a shrug “Nothing to do with me”; “So what”; “why bother – it is already finished”; “it can’t be changed, so forget it”; etc…
Whilst in many situations this may not be significant (but in my eyes it still is), it can become deadly – mentally, physically and politically. I found the following conversation on https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/the-stupidity-of-it-is-what-it-is.html:
Major Steadman to offer his perspective on leadership and the phrase “It is what it is.” The words that follow are all his.
In 2007, I arrived in Baghdad as the commander of an Army Infantry company totaling 300 Soldiers. As I spent time with the unit we were replacing, I noticed they were quite fond of a phrase I hadn’t heard yet.
“This Iraqi Army unit can’t show up to an operation on time, but it is what it is.”
“We’ve got a small outpost here, so parking will be tight. It is what it is.”
“We took a lot of casualties in this area, so you should be prepared for that. It is what it is.”
The unit used the phrase to explain (or excuse) action and inaction, misfortune and blessing, success and failure. It is what it is had evolved from words to mindset and had permeated the unit’s culture.
I am sure that the “lot of casualties” would not feel any better knowing that they are insignificantly “it is what it is”. Their lives are in tatters, they may have severe physical and mental disabilities (definitly some mental like PTSD); it will affect their future – jobs, family, relationships. And I am being told to prpeare for lots of casualties????????? Shoudn’t we “prepare” a strategy whereby we reduce casulties???? Shouldnt we question why there are casulties? How can we prevent them? Should we try negotian? Why are we figthing? It is that important that we invade a country? Is it important enough to reisk death? And what about the civilians caught in the cross fire – maimed, forced to flee their homes, poverty stricken and many dead. I saw a horrendous story on the news last night whereby a Syrian refugee mother had lost SIX sons, and now had to single handedly raise SIXTEEN grandchildren. No money, little food, and the 12 year old working 12 hour shifts as a mechanic’s apprentice; all for the equivalent of £3.
Is this “What it is”? Should the 12 year old abandon all his dreams of going to school in order to learn to read and write? How long can he manage to help the family? Will his brother (who has lost a leg, sight, hearing and is mute) survive with no medical care? Will his grandmother cope?
Is this “What it is”? Why should anyone bother to try when they can get aaway with easly absolving the situation (like the catholics provide in confession)/ by saying “it is what it is”? The phrase allows people to ignore their responsibilities; to pretend all is OK; to evade facing the truth; to gloss over incidents whereby the person/s cannot manage to come up with a solution or be creative. And many more examples could be listed.
It is defeatist. It is vague. It allows for failure to provide solutions. It can be a reply to a question that the person/s do not have the answer, or the willingness to work on an answer. It suggests apathy and lack of empathy. It can be disdainful and hurtful.
We could say:
It is what you accept!
But I do not accept the phrase into my language. It is not. I shall carry on cringing when I hear it. And if my loved ones use it on me, I shall be tempted to use the other alternative to “It is what it is”:
Fuck It! (apologies for the swear word)