it is what it is

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it is what it is

  1. (literally, sometimes philosophical) This thing has its own distinct nature; this thing is itself.
  2. (idiomatic) Synonym of that's life: A phrase expressing resignment to a situation or set of circumstances, usually without complaint; Thus meaning: this circumstance is simply a fact and must be accepted or dealt with as it exists.
    Unfortunately the insurance doesn't cover that. Sorry, but it is what it is.
    • 1926 March 8, “La Semaine du Parlement”, in Time:
      I shall not criticize the Treaty of Versailles. It is a fact. It is what it is.
    • 2005 November 20, Viv Bernstein, “Stewart Poised to Head Onto Road Less Traveled”, in New York Times, retrieved 24 July 2008:
      I would prefer to start further up than where I am, but it is what it is and we'll just go out there and get to work.
    • 2020, Bob Dylan, Murder Most Foul:
      Air Force One comin' in through the gate
      Johnson sworn in at 2:38
      Let me know when you decide to throw in the towel
      It is what it is, and it's murder most foul
  3. (by extension) Synonym of let it be: that is, because this concern is a constraint rather than a problem that can be solved (see "Lord grant us the wisdom to know the difference"), further analysis and discussion of it is unproductive, so let it be; accept the fact and let the matter rest.
    1. (by extension, sometimes) Synonym of who cares or synonym of I don't care[1]
      • 2023 September 12, John McWhorter, “What Is 'It Is What It Is'?”, in New York Times[2], retrieved 2023-09-13:
        But more important, while I am aware that "it is what it is" can be used in the "que sera sera" way, I do not agree that my interpretation of it is therefore incorrect. Rather, it is an example of how common it is in language for words and expressions to have more than one meaning, despite the fact that we rarely notice it. [] Regarding my troubles, he detachedly intoned, "Well, it is what it is." [] I recounted thinking: What a gorgeously chilly way of saying "Your problems don't matter to me." He was not using the phrase's other, "que sera sera" meaning, counseling me to accept how things unfold in a Zen-like way. / Those who think of the Zen version of "it is what it is" aren't wrong, however: It is often used that way when referring to oneself, for example. But those who agree with me that the expression can be dismissive are also correct in thinking of dismissive exchanges such as my own. "It is what it is" has two meanings. / The issue here is language change. The expression "it is what it is" began as counsel about coping. However, an implication floats over the proactive, constructive intent of the phrase: its element of distance, coolness, indifference. Implications like this can take over the word or expression's meaning and create either a new meaning or at least an alternative, 2.0 version.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Because the semantic evolution of the phrase has yielded polysemy,[1] it is advisable (for clear communication) that careful speakers and writers ensure that their intention (of which sense was meant) is clear enough, either through context or by choosing a synonym.



See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 McWhorter, John (2023 September 12) “What Is 'It Is What It Is'?”, in New York Times[1], retrieved 2023-09-13

Further reading[edit]