Is it?  Really?

As some of you may have noticed there is an influx of tchotchkes touting the phrase, “It is what it is”. My husband and I conversed about this on the way to somewhere. He assumed it was an Italian-American saying. Having worked in the Italian community in St. Louis I figured he would probably have more insight into this. As soon as he said where he thought it was from, I pictured a large restaurant owner overlooking freshly baked cannoli that didn’t turn out quite as he had hoped. Then uttering the now common place phrase in question.


This must be where you hide the house key when not given a choice.


     I didn’t really think much of the saying until I was at the store with my mother the other day. We were passing by the men’s clothing section when I saw the words emblazoned on a gray T-shirt. This puts the phrase into a whole new light and context. While researching for this blog, I found a link in Psychology Today where the author was contemplating the meaning. Her friend saw the phrase as a term of giving up and surrendering to the very thing you can’t change. The writer (and psychologist) saw it rather as a term stating the potential that a person or situation holds. 
     If the phrase is on a T-shirt, doesn’t this mean the person wearing it has given up? Does it apply to mental agility or to their physique? The context of the phrase has completely turned into something more tangible than a cute phrase on a matching color palette canvas at your favorite breakfast eatery. 


I’m not sure, is it a horrible cup of coffee?


     Let’s give a for instance. If Denzel Washington or Channing Tatum were wearing it, would it be ironic? If say Kevin Hart were wearing it, would be addressing to the state of life and all the calamity that happens in it? What if it were Jim Carrey wearing it? Would that imply to accepting him as he is, or his humor, his dark and light side?
     If Darth Vader or Yoda were wearing the shirt, it would be pretty clear what the intent is behind the phrase. But when it’s a real human being, you tend to question the motive behind it because the phrase turns into something more complex. It brings into question, what is “it” really with which that you are referring? The only thing I ask, is if you choose to wear this shirt, please be specific. I will loan you a sharpie if it isn’t already clear what you mean, and you can do that thing English teachers do when editing a paper by putting a “carrot” with the word “it” crossed out and the intended word written casually above said carrot.  
     Normally I would apologize for being cranky, but in a world of blanket expressions given as answers to things needing a finite explanation, I will not apologize. Instead you will just have to accept the fact that sometimes “cranky” gets stuff answered. I refuse to accept the fact that this expression is a blatant acceptance of complacency.

     What phrase has caused you to give second thought to it? What phrase has caused you to wince because of its incorrect usage?



4 thoughts on “Is it?  Really?

  1. I have to agree, on a t-shirt it may as well say, Whatever”.
    Before I retired from the Air Force, a guy I worked with used the term a lot, but it was alwas something specific. He used it as a way of saying, There’s no good way to fix this so we’ll just roll with what we have and make the best of it.

    • That is what I’ve come to believe the original phrase meant, but whe. You start applying it to everyday things it loses all meaning…and sense! Yes, you’re right, wouldn’t it be easier to say, “Whatever” on a shirt?

  2. The phrase is vague indeed, but in the context of a tee maybe intentionally so. If you look at it like art, it’s up to the viewer what they interpret into it. That’s more intriguing than an unmistakable meaning, well for me at least. 🙂

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