The new phrase is also so multifunctional. It can refer to states of being, conditions and things.
I’m always impressed with how rapidly colloquialisms become a part of our language. I’m not referring to hipster talk used by musicians or gangsta rapsters. I’m talking about expressions we all use in our daily lives.
One such common phrase is: “It is what it is,” which seems to have replaced the “whatever” arrow in our colloquial quiver. The new phrase is also so multifunctional. It can refer to states of being, conditions and things.
“The company’s health benefits policy? It is what it is.”
“Norman’s drinking problem? It is what it is.”
“NBC’s fall lineup? It is what it is.”
“Performance-enhancing drugs and the Tour de France. It is what it is.”
“Rising gasoline prices in summer? It is what it is.”
Moreover, the phrase produces overtones that make it appear more profound than it really is. One could imagine existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre using it at a café in Paris. “Being and nothingness? It is what it is.”
Sometimes I think it is deployed simply as a verbal IED to end discussion or to blast the way to a new topic.
“The burst pipe in the basement. It is what it is. Let’s talk about how much our home owner’s insurance will cover.”
Or one can couple it with “whatever” to dismiss totally the person to whom the phrases are directed: “It is what it is. Whatever.” The only response to this one-two verbal punch is silence or unconsciousness. There is no comeback.
It is interesting to see how some phrases overtake others. “Going postal,” thanks to some disgruntled postal workers over the years, has supplanted going ballistic. Almost everyone “blogs” these days when just a few years ago blog looked like a misspelling of bog. (Although many blogs are indeed bogs.)
According to Wikipedia, “A blog (a portmanteau of Web log) is a Web site where entries are written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order.” I don’t know what writing chronologically but displaying in reverse order really means but it is what it is. (I have to admit that I also had to look up the word portmanteau to make sure I really knew what it means. I didn’t. It is defined as a blending of two word forms like smoke and fog to get smog.)
There are also a lot of 800-pound gorillas around. Bill Clinton, apparently, is the 800-pound gorilla in Hilary’s campaign. (Actually, I thought Bubba was looking on the slim side these days.)
Dick Cheney is the 800-pound gorilla in the West Wing or the bunker or wherever he works these days.
Years ago, the phrase “I’m talking” meant the same thing as the adverb very. People would say, “Bill Gates is rich, I’m talking rich.” Or, “ Katie Couric’s audience ratings are low, I’m talking low.”
I also remember how we used to hold out our fingers like imaginary quotation marks when we said something hyperbolic: Paris Hilton had a [hold second and third fingers of each hand in claw position in front of your body] “breakdown.” This usually meant the obverse of the word in quotes. By making air guitar quotation marks for “breakdown,” what was really meant was that she didn’t have a breakdown.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could have used the quote-claws for his famous known knowns remarks made in 2002:
“As we know, There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.”
All I can say to this is: It is what it is.
Peter Costa is a senior editor with Community Newspaper Company. His book, “CostaLiving: Laughing through Life,” a collection of his humor columns, is available at amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble bookstores.