It is what it is

The idiom it is what it is has an uncertain origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom it is what it is, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

It is what it is means that a situation cannot be changed or mitigated. One may comment it is what it is when he cannot avoid a situation, change someone’s mind, or avoid a certain outcome. It is what it is implies acceptance; it may mean that one is resigned to his fate, or it may mean he is at peace with whatever happens. The origin of the phrase it is what it is is not clear. William Safire traced the phrase to the 1940s, when it was published in the Nebraska State Journal; however, the idiom may have been in use before that time.


“It is what it is” has never meant much to me, other than providing an air of resignation about some development. (The Canberra Times)

“It is what it is,” said Steve Land, general manager of the Elgin Public House on East Chicago Street. (The Chicago Tribune)

“It is what it is …,” said Buddy Dyker, a retired union rep and the resident sage of the Netflix show “Ozark.” (The Detroit Free Press)

Sometimes I wish my photo stories weren’t like this, but it is what it is. (The Atlantic)

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