A human being can attach a reason to anything. For example, I could have attached the reason for writing this post to the fact that I’ve now spotted at least seven different varieties of sprouts emerging in my garden. But I won’t.
Rather, I’ve decided to attach a reason to this, my 887thth post published here on the RDC. I’ve decided that for my 887th post, I will write a full-blown rant about a cliche that just won’t die.
In 2007, I noticed that the cooler students I had started dismissing or explaining life’s little mishaps or problems with these words: “It is what it is.” For a while I thought, “Okay, that’s their way of accepting life circumstances. Of having a strong internal locus of control. Of dealing with unfortunate circumstances. Go, you.”
But of course the cliche spread. Who knows how long it had been growing across the U.S. before I focused in on the communication phenomenon. In 2008 Douglas McCollum wrote a GREAT article about how the cliche was used in the sports world.
My favorite paragraph included these words:
The phrase is popular with today’s sports figures because, like all clichés, it helps them avoid speaking about the essence of anything. Queried about whether a key fourth-down decision by coach Marvin Lewis had cost his team a game last fall, Bengals tackle Levi Jones sought cover: “It is what it is. We didn’t win the football game.” Likewise, when Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was disinclined to talk about how he’d eased teammate Shaquille O’Neal out of town, he went for the handiest refuge available. “It is what it is, man,” he told reporters. “I’ve just moved on.” Even retired players have a hard time shaking the habit. “It is what it is,” Cal Ripken Jr. told the Baltimore Sun last year after being voted into the Hall of Fame.
In 2009, I found myself gritting my teeth when I heard people throw “It is what it is” around as if it were an explanation that secretly communicated what they really felt on a higher plane so that the only response I seemed to muster was nodding my head as if I had, indeed, got the meaning loud and clear.
By the time 2010 rolled around, I decided that if our world actually had word balloons floating over all the heads of humanity spelling out what they said, I would patent an official Word Balloon Gun and run around searching for “It is what it is” somewhere within their dialogue. Should I locate that phrase, I would look through my scope, pull the trigger and blow that entire word balloon to bits. I fantasized in my head that I was the word balloon police, and that phrase was felony level behavior.
Last year? I actually announced to the sophomores in my Human Sexuality class that the use of “It is what it is” to explain a concept or issue was forbidden. I think I heard gasps from the crowd when a student used the phrase for the first time.
Do you see the progression? Acknowledgement and perhaps admiration, saturation and agreement with an author who takes the phrase head-on, internal fantasy of destruction then…external, control-attempting behavior directed toward my students.
The phrase had beat me. It had turned my mild mannered persona into a raving university instructor…something I know, at least in my heart, I had vowed never to become.
So now here I sit, thinking back over the aftershocks of my students’ reactions and the power of a pop culture phrase to turn me into someone I had rather not be.
Next year, I’ll begin my class by setting the standard that we will use descriptive phrases and own what we say. We will respect one another and allow academic discourse. And if someone utters the dreaded phrase, I will ask them to find a more descriptive way to explain their thoughts and feelings about the topic.
I can’t hope that this type of standard will somehow, slowly but surely, stamp out the “easier way out” to use your own voice. Or…can I? After all, I used my 887th post to say how I felt about this phrase, right? I was positively influenced by Douglas McCollum articulating what I couldn’t yet crystallize myself, wasn’t I?
Hm. Maybe if I positively appeal to whomever might read this about the virtues of people communicating their thoughts and feelings rather than using cliches to do the job for them…then maybe I’ve helped someone else think about taking a risk to show people who they really are by descriptively addressing questions or situations.
Okay, I’m done ranting. Perhaps saving my rants for every 887th post is a good choice for me. It’s not within my character to go on tangents, and simply writing this one out seemed to be enough for quite some time. The process felt good. I liked how I discovered the phrase I detested turned me into someone I’d rather not be.
In other words, “It wasn’t what it was.” Writing helped me realize something about myself that I needed to change.
I can deal with that.
5 thoughts on ““It” Isn’t “What It Is.” “It” Is What You Think, Feel and Do.”
Okay, but seriously. I. HATE. THAT. PHRASE. When talking heads on TV say, I yell at them an cuss (but apparently, they can’t hear me). When I hear it in person, my response is, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” (Thank you Bill Clinton.) It’s more polite than punching them in the face.
You are a truly funny person. You write the things I think but would never say. Thanks for that gift today 🙂
At the end of the day, it sounds like your students really can’t think outside the box, so you need to level the playing field and get them to push the envelope.
Not quite as insidious or offensive is the “Well there ya’ go.”. hehe
Oh, Rose…I know! And I also know I was a high-level “well, there ya’ go” offender. I actually liked saying it, over and over…perhaps we need a cliches anonymous!
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