It is what it is … whatever it might be
An expression which is increasingly heard these days on television and in political comment is the rather cryptic "it is what it is". Not exactly an illuminating observation, and it prompts the question, "But, what is it?" Apparently it means a certain situation that cannot be changed however much you want and carries an element of resignation.
Politicians like the expression partly because it sounds much better than the traditional "no comment" when they're asked an awkward question. Even better it usually brings the questioning to an abrupt halt. It is of course not an entirely satisfactory answer and can be a lazy way of avoiding proper explanations.
"It is what it is" has been around a long time in a variety of guises. In Shakespeare's Macbeth it surfaces in slightly different words when Lady Macbeth concedes "what's done is done". There is a similar expression for events in the future with "whatever happens, happens" perhaps better known as "que sera sera" (whatever will be, will be) made popular by the Doris Day song in 1956.
I fear "it is what it is" may soon be joining a growing list of irritating expressions currently topped by "at this moment in time" which has driven me nuts for years. It doesn't really mean anything and at best is a long-winded way of saying "now". One suspects this expression is used to give the speaker a couple of seconds to dream up something more coherent. At least it spares us from "um", "err'' and "you know" which we would otherwise be treated to.
And as for "let me make one thing perfectly clear…." Grrr!
Having said that…
There are plenty of expressions that can become annoying if you hear them too often. Whenever someone comes out with "to be perfectly honest" it triggers an uncomfortable feeling that normally they are perhaps less than truthful.
Another that can be quite irritating is "correct me if I'm wrong" which usually means, "I am never wrong and don't you dare correct me". Somewhat similar is "I don't want to be rude, but…" followed by the speaker being extremely rude.
One expression that can be useful is "but, having said that…" after which you proceed to contradict everything you have previously said. It's a handy way of sitting on the fence and is particularly helpful when making a hasty U-turn in a committee meeting.
There's a word for it
The "it is what it is" type of idiom even has its own name, tautophrase, meaning a phrase which deliberately repeats certain words to emphasise an idea. This term was first used in 2006 by New York Times columnist William Safire.
Over the years we have experienced tautophrasing probably without realising it. Some of the expressions are quite familiar as in "enough is enough" often used in newspaper headlines along with "facts are facts". Some are rather silly such as "we are where we are" and "I know what I know" which regrettably is often not a lot.
In sport many a coach is usually reflecting relief when they come out with "a win is a win".
A former British prime minister was probably unaware she was coming out with a tautophrase when she cleverly explained "Brexit means Brexit".
The bus trip
Congratulations to Chadchart Sittipunt on his overwhelming win for Bangkok governor. Now comes the hard part.
Having been transport minister in a previous government he has a good idea how difficult it is to solve Bangkok's problems. At that time Mr Chadchart vigorously promoted the use of buses in the city and decided to get first-hand experience as a commuter.
He was booked on an afternoon flight from Don Mueang but opted to forgo his limousine to the airport and take a bus from the city. He duly arrived at the bus stop and waited. Forty minutes later he was still waiting for the bus.
Eventually the bus appeared and he hopped on board. The vehicle nudged its way through the customary gridlock at a snail's pace. By the time the bus reached Victory Monument, only a quarter of the way to the airport, it had been 80 minutes since he first arrived at the bus stop. It was time to make a decision…
Mr Chadchart realised that if he remained on the bus he was definitely going to miss the flight. So he had little option but phone his driver to come and rescue him, abandoning the bus. Thanks to the limousine he just made the flight.
To his credit he publicly admitted afterwards his bus trip "was a flop". But it was an "honourable flop" because at least he had made an effort to understand the problems facing commuters.
We wish him good luck. He is definitely going to need it.
My thanks to readers for following up on last week's column concerning bizarre English signs in Thailand.
One reader spotted a roadside sign in Koh Samui which announced "lots of pretty lady hostages". Another reported a Pattaya bar carried the warning: "Caution. Ladies approaching at high speed." Then there was the beauty shop selling the less than enticing "lip gross".
Several readers remarked on highway "accident ahead" signs which although in correct English, worryingly appear to be permanent signs … from which you can make your own deductions.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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