“It is what it is.” The cliché of the decade — not just of 2004 when USA Today voted it the #1 cliché of the year. It is the grown-up version of the popular teen retort “Whatever.” A total cop-out.
I’m hearing this phrase so often now that I cringe when someone says it. It is as if the world suddenly discovered if we just say those five little words we’re off the hook.
When you say it is what it is, you are also closing the door on the discussion. And you cannot argue with the logic nor the convenience it affords us to deflect blame or to shift blame to others.
I want to reply to this phrase “Ok, but what it IS is not acceptable. What was it SUPPOSED to be and how are YOU/WE going to make that happen?”
Employee: “We could not meet the deadline in time. No one is at fault. It is what it is.”
Supervisor: “The company lost the contract because you didn’t meet the deadline. You’re fired. Nothing personal. It is what it is.”
On the domestic front, the phrase works for both parents AND kids:
Parent: “You left the trash cans on the curb a second day in a row.”
Youth: “Don’t stroke out over it, it is what it is. I’ll do it in the morning.”
Parent: “Then you may refer to your iPod as ‘it was what it was’ in the morning.”
It seems to me that the phrase reveals a fatalistic and defeatist attitude. What you MEAN when you use it is that nothing can be done to change the situation. And someone else has to take responsibility. It’s an excuse for poor performance, or its a reflection on the boss’s decisions. Which may be true. But you can’t say “The boss couldn’t lead their way out of a paper bag with a GPS and a flashlight” out loud at the water cooler. You just have to take it for what “it is.”
At first, when I learned this handy phrase, I used it often. I felt it helped me fit in. Now I’m sick of it.
So I believe I have found my New Year’s Resolution. To stamp out the use of “it is what it is” from the American lexicon. I will make any person I supervise memorize this promise and repeat it, hand over heart, each morning as we all stand in a circle before our group hug: “I shall accept blame if I perform poorly, and strive to fulfill my obligations beyond expectations and without excuses for coming up short.” I will create posters for the office bulletin board that declare the space an excuse free zone. I will stick my fingers in my ears and waggle them while repeating “blah blah blah blah blah” to drown out the offensive words. I will do a “spit take” with my coffee when someone uses the phrase – aiming directly at the offending person.
These measures are sure to be effective in eradicating the phrase. They will also likely get me fired. Unless I worked at Dunder Mifflin. Or were a member of Congress.