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by Liz Walter
I’ve been struck recently by the huge popularity of the phrase it is what it is. According to the New York Times, it first appeared in 1949, but it is only in this century that it has really caught on. Like many phrases that find sudden popularity, it is a neat way of expressing a concept that many of us have experienced: that a difficult situation which can’t be changed must be accepted:
My application was late and I can’t apply again until next year. Still, it is what it is.
Of course, there are other ways of expressing the same idea. Phrases such as that’s just the way it is/things are or there’s nothing (I/you etc.) can do about it are also common, though less catchy:
It’s difficult having to work at night, but that’s just the way things are.
I don’t like the friends my son’s hanging out with, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
There are several nice phrases that express the idea that you must accept something because it has already happened and can’t be changed. For instance, we might say that we can’t wind the clock back, or that what’s done is done. More colourfully, we could say it’s no use crying over spilled (UK & US)/spilt (UK) milk:
I wish I’d accepted the other job. But I can’t wind the clock back.
“I made lots of mistakes.” “Never mind. What’s done is done.”
We lost a lot of money, but it’s no use crying over spilled milk.
Another way of accepting difficult situations is to downplay their importance using a phrase such as it’s not the end of the world. Like ‘it is what it is’, the phrase first-world problems has also caught on this century, primarily over the last decade. We use it either to apologize for complaining about trivial things or to mock other people who do so:
I failed my driving test. Ah well, it’s not the end of the world.
I couldn’t find any ripe avocados. First world problems, I know!
Sometimes it takes time before we can accept something difficult that has happened. We can say we have come to terms with a bad or sad situation. If someone finds closure or has a sense of closure, they are able to move on with their lives after an (often serious) unpleasant experience. If you make a deliberate decision to stop thinking about something bad that has happened, you draw a line under it:
It took him a long time to come to terms with his illness.
We won’t be able to find closure until his killer is caught.
It’s time to draw a line under the matter and move on.
I hope you have found some useful new phrases in this post, but if you don’t have time to learn them, don’t worry too much – it is what it is!