If you’re talking to John McWhorter, never use this common phrase: “It is what it is.”
“People say that when what they really mean is, ‘I don’t care,’” McWhorter, author, linguist and associate professor at Columbia University, told Bill Gates’ “Unconfuse Me” podcast on Thursday.
“The first time someone said that to me was when something bad happened to me, and he didn’t care. And he said, ‘Well, that’s it,’” McWhorter said. “And I analyzed it and I thought, ‘What a great way to say it: Your problems don’t matter to me.’”
You’ve probably heard this phrase before, or even used it yourself – usually in response to a problem or situation that cannot be fixed or fixed, and therefore has to be accepted. But it can appear so passive that using it can make other people less likely to trust you, as McWhorter said.
According to a 2021 survey by The Impact Genome Project and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, nearly 46.5 million U.S. adults (18%) say they either have one person or no one they look up to personally. can count on for support.
Leadership consultant Yasmin Mumbi told CNBC Make It in May that “trust comes from people knowing that you support them, that they are supported by you and that your support will not be used for exploitation later.” “go to [to conversations] Using your keen, inquiry-based listening. That’s what I’ll do.”
It’s not entirely bad news for McWhorter’s least favorite phrase: Using it can be a sign of emotional resilience, as it reflects your ability to accept your circumstances, psychologist Courtney Warren told Make It last month. Told to
“The key to resilience is not to deny reality or look for a reason that will make us feel better about why something happened,” Warren said. “When we get to a place of radical acceptance, the situation has less of an effect on us.”
Still, she suggested some alternative words to use: “I have to see reality for what it is, even if it’s not what I want, so that I can move forward.”
It’s a very long sentence, but it includes enough context to avoid being dismissed—or, as grammar experts Cathy and Ross Petras told Make It in 2021, “embarrassingly trite.”
As for the expression, “is it what it is?”
“It should go away,” said McWhorter.
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