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"What It Isn't"

December 10, 2012 - Joselyn King
What is this "it is what it is" phrase we hear all too often these days?

Usually the words hit our ears at the most unappetizing moments in our lives -- when the condo association tells us the garbage trucks are now afraid (after 15 years) of coming up the hill to pick up garbage, and we now have to haul it to the bottom; when the pharmacist tells you the medication you need no longer comes in generic form; the road you must travel is going to be closed for a six-months, and it will delay you 30 minutes each way each day.

The phrase always describes some situation over which we are seemingly powerless, and must be accepting -- akin to "be a good soldier" or "take one for the team."

All I knew is after hearing "it is what it is" too many times in recent days, I knew I wanted to refuse the "it is what it is" situation.

I googled "it is what it is" and found out the idiom isn't what I thought it was.

Seems it's a variation on the expression "what it is" -- a phrase often used by African-Americans prior to the 1960s civil rights movement. It was a shorthand way of saying, "That's just the way the system is," but it stopped short of indicating the system should be accepted. Rather, it meant the situation was one with which you have to deal, but must work to power through.

I don't want "what it is," but I guess pressing on is the answer.


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