It Is What It Is

Or What it is, it is. Take your pick. The title version earned global attention when Donald Trump used it to address the staggering and growing death toll from COVID-19 that he has downplayed, denied and declined to address with an aggressive national plan. https://cnn.it/2QhEVSc Basically, Trump said, in the now infamous Axios interview, “meh, I’m not really interested in it anymore.” Then, during the Democratic National Convention, Former First Lady and for many of us Permanent First Lady, Michelle Obama used it in her blistering take-down of the president for his gross failure of leadership:

He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

https://bit.ly/31hWTKC BOOM!!

The interest in this phrase led me to investigate its origins because I remembered its being used by members of the crime families in the movie, The Irishman, that provided an explanation of the murder/disappearance of labor boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. https://bit.ly/3j5FLxY I was curious about why this reference was never made by the media when Trump, whom many (me included) have likened to a crime boss, used it regarding the pandemic.

It turns out the phrase has been in use for a long time, though its true origins have not been confirmed. According to Wikipedia, the phrase has been a movie title, book title, song title and more. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Is_What_It_Is Curiously, there is no reference there to The Irishman, in which the words are spoken multiple times in two scenes. In the movie, the text means “there is nothing to discuss; the bosses have decided and that’s the end of it,” a conclusion Hoffa (Dustin Hoffman) cannot accept. That decision leads to his death.

A couple of sources attribute the phrase to 1949, when, according to a New York Times piece, it appeared in a column written by J. E. Lawrence in the Nebraska State Journal:

New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without an apology.

That’s a subtly different meaning than the one ascribed in an online dictionary: https://bit.ly/2YpvvIS

When there’s nothing left to say or no way to answer questions about what happened, “It is what it is” puts an end to the conversation, usually with a shrug. It’s another way of saying, “I don’t like it either, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

That’s close to Trump’s “meh.” Closer still is the Quora.com interpretation of one person on Quora.com:

It is what it is” is a pronouncement of the man-in-charge that means the man-in-charge is giving up on a problem or situation (no more “doing”). This is a prompt for an ambitious lower status male to say “I’d like to try one more thing” if he can.

https://bit.ly/31lJT6O

For those who may be interested, the phrase translates in Latin to “est quod id est.” and in Italian it’s ‘È così!’ The Urban Dictionary https://bit.ly/3hmSKdU says,

Used often in the business world, this incredibly versatile phrase can be literally translated as “f*** it

which most perversely may be the closest to what Trump really meant to say.

2 thoughts on “It Is What It Is

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