Thursday, September 1, 2011

It is what it is...


People are always saying "It is what it is."  This phrase is used often in resolution or mild exasperation when one is expressing acceptance of something that simply cannot be changed.  "It is what it is..."

The popularity of this phrase may be waning.  It was used and overused during The Great Recession.  Business went into the dumpster: "it is what it is."  People were losing their jobs; "it is what it is."  Houses were going into foreclosure; "it is what it is."  Horrible economic news festered an environment where this phrase became a mantra; "it is what it is."

But, I believe that we have been saying it wrong all of this time.  "It is what it is."  Most certainly the first half of the statement is correct:  "It is."  No question about that.  We utter this phrase because we are not happy about "what is."  We would rather have "what should be" or "what isn't."  So, I have decided to use the phrase "it is what it isn't."  I think that would much better convey my sense of being accepting of "what is" but actually really wishing it were not;  "it is what it isn't."

Another alternative could be "it isn't what it oughta be."  This however might be too subtle to become widely used.  I like it however.

Back in the 1970s, a phrase emerged from the Afro-Americian community (if not from the Afro-American community directly, it certainly came from  the TV sitcom idea of how they thought people talked in that community).  It was a kind of greeting;  "what it is." "What it is" indeed.  I was always fascinated by this and the number of white kids who used it trying to be a bit more inner-city or trying to adopt a bit of ghetto cool.  I never used it, but loved to use variations of when responding to such a greeting.    

My friends would say, "What it is?"  I would respond, "What it was."  When I got tired of that, I branched out to various tenses, "what it will be."  I used, "what it might have been" or "what it should be."  My favorite was the past perfect "what it should have been."  Maybe, it is the past future perfect or conditional perfect past, I never fully got the labels thought I could sling the tenses around in a conversation with the best of them.  I like these variations, it is like the verbal equivalent of English or back-spin on tennis shot.

"It is what it is" reminds me of "what it is."  Maybe instead of the simple "it is what it isn't," I think I will mix it up in terms of tense and potential... a lot.

Hey, it is not what it might have been. 

Neither is it what anyone ever promised it would be.   

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