It is what it is, requested by Jon Parker, is undoubtedly worthy of king of kings status among platitudes. The very best platitudes state the obvious, obfuscated just so much that they appear profound. It is impossible to trace this idiom to its origin but, according to William Safire of the New York Times, first appears in a column for The Nebraska State Journal in 1949. However, a simple search using Google Books Ngram Viewer reveals that the phrase was in use at least from the early 1800s. I discovered a number of nineteenth-century examples in books of biblical exegesis and philosophy.

An early examples of “it is what it is” from an English Grammar published in 1814.

‘It is what it is’ is most often used to shut down a conversation or to avoid difficult questions; however, it might also be an expression of pragmatic resignation and the simple fact that some things cannot be changed.


Font: Antarctican by James Puckett (Dunwich Type Founders).

Image: The Met. The painting of Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn (1825–60), by the brilliant neo-classical French artist, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. A rather tragic tale surrounds this exquisite portrait: Shortly after its completion, Pauline contracted tuberculosis and after suffering horribly for years died aged 35, leaving behind five children.