Monday, August 11, 2014

It is what it is

It is what it is...

I use this idiom all the time, but I hate it. Why do I use it? Well, it's better than saying to my students or other people, "you're sh@$ out of luck," or "I refuse to change my mind or the situation." It ends all arguments since someone cannot disagree and childishly say, "no it's not." It's just as bad as "let's agree to disagree." 
For example, I'll have that student that will approach me with empty excuses to why he/she was unable to turn in any papers or do any of the work over the semester and has ignored all my reminders and warnings. Suddenly, this student shows up at my office at the end of the semester looking for a miracle to pass the class. I usually break it down to these students by pointing out policies in the syllabus needed to pass, then I show them mathematically the inability to pass. In desperation, most of these students refuse to see mathematical and linguistic reality. They become irrational and try to convince me that there must be a way to pass without doing the work (they don't say it in this way, but just refuse to come to terms with the reality of the situation). In the end, I resort to, "it is what it is." Only then do they seem to understand the finality of the situation and give in. 
Idioms come in handy because we universally understand them. But why are they necessary to use? Surely in the above situation as a student you should be able to grasp that you won't pass if you don't do the work, period. But that doesn't seem to be enough. The idiom "It is what it is," is said to be "used when a person, place or thing is behaving in accordance with their nature, so that behavior should be accepted or expected even if it is not what you would like" (Usingenglish.com). This makes sense in the above example. The "nature" would be the students' awareness, via syllabus, of due dates, expectations, assignments etc. and the professor holding them accountable for these assignments. So in the end I suppose I'm saying to the student, "I know you don't like it but this is to be expected." It seems obvious in this situation but given the background of some students and inferior public school systems, some of these kids probably passed high school classes by handing in something at the last minute regardless of due dates, or worse even passed without doing any work. In these instances, "it is what it is" is like a bitch-slap the face. A cruel and bitter sting of how life suddenly is so unfair to them.
I also end up using the ridiculous expression when working in the restaurant industry. I'll get those people who demand a booth, because for some reason they are so much better (even though where I work, they aren't padded), when there clearly aren't any open. I survey the restaurant, estimate how long the quickest booth to leave will be and explain the wait time. Often I'm met with a disgusted expression and shock to why they must wait at all. What I want to tell them is, "I'm not f$@*ing Harry Potter and can conjure a booth out of my a$$ for you." Instead I use the handy, " it is what it is, sorry." Every now and then that expression doesn't quite do it for them and they get angry because as we asininely tell them the customer is always right. In this instance, it's the reverse of students. Now I have to break it down: there are no booths open and you have to wait for one. Here, a simple idiom will not suffice. The customers have this huge self entitlement that they personally deserve the best, what they want should be given to them no matter what, and mere employees are their personal slaves for the next hour and must follow their orders. Here, the idiom is null and void since they believe they are right no matter what with complete disregard for reality. 

As the Rolling Stones state, "you can't always get what you want" people. The world doesn't work that way restaurant guests and students. As much as I hate the expression, the world, our country, our customs, they are what they are. So students do your work and customers be prepared to wait for your picky desires. It is what it is after all.

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