What is up with what is up?

Somewhere along the way, people decided to start saying “It is what it is.” No one knows why, but God knows everyone wishes they would stop.

I started hearing it last year some time, and I knew “it is what it is” had really made it when it appeared on the American version of the office (B. J. Novak, as Ryan, throws it in a rant filled with other business platitudes).

Soon after, I heard my actual boss say it on a conference call. Then, a client at work. Now, as of last week, my therapist, from whom I expected more (Me: “Why are the flying monkeys talking to me?” Her: “It is what is is.”)

Could any phrase, in the history of language, signify less? A is equal to what A is equal to. “It is what it is” could be summarized thusly: “it.”

My friend Ian pointed out another recent offender: “Going forward.” This is used, very, very often in my experience, at work to propose an action, for example: “Going forward, let’s make money instead of losing it.”

You don’t need the “Going forward” part. We’re certainly not going to do things previously. Proposing or mandating action is rarely effective when applied to the past. “Looking backward, let’s sell more ads yesterday.” Actually, I wouldn’t put that past the rank and file of managers I’ve met, but, you know, “time travel is impossible as time travel is impossible.”

“It is what it is” reminds me of our neighbor Patrick in Mississippi who would say “for obvious reasons.” But he never left well enough alone, and was compelled to then spell out his reasons, no matter how obvious. The one Pulao and I remember the most was when he got his pet rabbit, Floppy, whom he had named “for obvious reasons,” which were (obviously) that the rabbit grew up in a flophouse.

4 Responses to What is up with what is up?

  1. Katie L. says:

    Oh, man, I HATE “it is what it is.” Totally rant-worthy. (And that was a satisfying rant you wrote.)

    A cousin of “for obvious reasons”: “needless to say.”

  2. Duedecad says:

    This is a really good recap. Another thing I have been noticing at work lately is the passive voice in combination with a uninformed complexity evaluation to give an order to do something.

    For instance,
    worker 1: All the Web site pages are outdated.
    worker 2: Couldn’t they just be automated to be re-written?
    (in other words, “Hey lazy ass, I’ve never worked on a Web site, but they must be so simple a robot monkey could update them. So since it just has to be simple to develop a magical re-writer, why haven’t YOU done that yet?”)

    Worker 2 may be a genius. Someday this type of passive evaluation order could automate everything, ending work as we know it. Then we can all get paid for riding roller coasters all day while the world is ‘just automated.’

    I’m surprised no one thought of that in the past.

  3. Kris says:

    And it’s so hard to explain to a coworker just how stupid their suggestion is, especially if said coworker is a vice president.

    BTW, this isn’t me — I just automated this blog to post my own comments for me, automatically, saving me valuable time. It was easy!

  4. j marie says:

    you’re so right about this saying! my pet peeve, a few years ago, was this idea of concepts informing inanimate objects. example: the whole casserole was informed by the essence of lemon. get out of here with that! add that to the whole “paradigm shift” epidemic in recent years, and you’ve got a real linguistic conundrum on your hands.

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