“It is what it is” is a waste of words, a waste of breath. I mean, sure, I get it. It expresses the same sentiment as the French “C’est la vie!” But still, it irks me. It’s just a repetitive series of defeatist monosyllables. Why not just say “It is,” or for that matter, “It’s”?
Of course it is what it is! How could it be anything but it?
The only context in which that phrase would be appropriate would be if somebody asked “Is it what it is?” and you said, “Yes, it is what it is.” Presumably you’d have this conversation in an assisted living home with a demented loved one attempting to categorize an ice cream cone.
When you write “It is what it is” as a mathematical algorithm it looks like this:
it = it
In logic, this is called the law of identity, which states that an object is the same as itself. “A is A” is a tautology. Here are some more:
1 = 1
pineapple = pineapple
J = J
☺ = ☺
poop = poop
X = X
Those are analytical facts, verified by their consistency within the rules of a symbol system. But they’re also stupid and irrelevant. They’re true under all possible circumstances, and they demand little of the world for their truth. You don’t need evidence to back up the claim “Poop is what poop is.”
Here’s another tautology:
Seems logical, right? I don’t know, I’m not a logician.
What concerns me are rhetorical tautologies such as:
“I am what I am.” ~ God talking to Moses
“I yam what I yam.” ~ Popeye talking to Olive Oyl
“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” ~ Gertrude Stein
“A horse is a horse, of course, of course.” ~ the Mr. Ed theme song
“It is what it is what it is what it is what it is what it is what it is.” ~ this essay
It is it. A is A. But redundancies are redundant, aren’t they? Be succinct. Next time your umbrella breaks, or your toilet gets clogged, or your house burns down, just shrug and say “It’s.”
That’s obnoxious advice, I know. Defeatism gets us nowhere. Life is hard, but that’s no excuse to spout meaningless clichés. There are so many fantastic adjectives and nouns and verbs out there, humming in a deep pocket of your brain. Use your words. Don’t just say “It is what it is.” We already know that.
Wittgenstein said philosophy is the headache you get from banging your head up against the limits of language. When I came across that line I decided I was done studying philosophy. Years later, my head is still hurting. Philosophy is dangerous.