It Is What It Is

More than “you know what I mean?” and starting sentences with either “Honestly?” or “So…,” the locution on everyone’s lips of late is the quasi-philosophical, quasi-nonsensical phrase “It is what it is.”

What do people mean when they say this? Everything is what it is. In rare cases, something isn’t what it seems or appears to be — but, when you strip away the veneer that thing still is what it is (and only pretending to be something else). The opposite has also been demonstrated by modern physics: nothing “is” what it is — but let’s not quibble.

Declaring that something is what it is — the sky is the sky; the ocean is the ocean — is not exactly a powerful insight into the true nature of existence. Of course it is what it is. That’s why we collectively agree that the sky is the sky. Promiscuous users of IIWII, we suspect, understand this elemental fact. What they’re really trying to say is: “I accept reality.”

That’s nice.

Try this exercise…

Sideline Reporter to Athlete: “You guys lost your quarterback in the first quarter. That’s a big blow.”

+ Athlete 1: “Well, it is what it is. You know, we just have to [insert litany of cliches here].”

+ Athlete 2: “Well, we accept and embrace the adversity. You know, we just have to [insert litany of cliches here.]”

Other possible meanings of IIWII:

  • “What can I do? I resign.”
  • “The static ‘it’ I am referring to will never change.”
  • “I am able to see this situation with a yogic clarity.”
  • “I would like to confirm that there is no subterfuge or chicanery involved; ‘it’ is indeed what ‘it’ purports to be.”

The next time someone declaims with a shrug, “It is what it is. You know what I mean?,” we will nod politely and say, “Yes, I do know what you mean.”

But, honestly? You guys? Not really.

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1 Response

  1. Overviper says:

    Actually ITWII is a derivative of a lyric from a TOP song (Tower of Power). The lyric is “Hipness is, what it is…” The implied meaning is that unless one has actually attained a certain level of hipness, one cannot possess a real understanding of the state of such. I concur in this, as, having lived in Los Angeles for some 30 years, I have seen multiple generations of the pseudo-hip, the tragically hip, the retro-hip, the avant-hip…

    I’ve seen country hip, farm hip, beach hip, surf hip, urban hop-hip (a clever reversal of hip-hop, characterized by street beats, but then augmented by mustaches…which is pathetically un-OG). I’ve seen the mobs of caffeine-strung, black-clad used bookstore patrons wandering Sunset in their angst and tattoos, all with their worn copies of Kerouac in their back pockets, searching for an angry fix…wearing their faux-Cuban little hipster hats…as if it would impress their dope dealer….

    “It is what it is…” appears to me to be an implicit direction to one that they first must figure out what it indeed “Is” before one can claim understanding of same.

    Of course, the lyric of the song then goes on to say that “Sometimes Hipness is what it ain’t…” which one must be a member of a remote sub-sect of the Nepalese Zen school of Lama Torme to even begin to contemplate, and involves meditating for hours on the sound of a single clave. ITWII in this instance would imply that the lack of something could be extremely meaningful…which, while obvious if discussing water in a desert…would become far more obtuse when Nietzsche is the focus of the conversation.

    You know what I mean?