Why “It Is What It Is” is a Stupid Phrase


Why “It Is What It Is” is a Stupid Phrase

It’s Baghdad, 2007. I’m a company commander deploying to a contentious area during the height of The Surge. As my unit starts to shadow the unit we’re replacing, and I spend time with my counterpart and his battalion’s staff, I begin to hear a new phrase pop up:  “It is what it is.

I wouldn’t have thought much of it, but I heard that response from numerous members of the unit, and applied to all types of discussion topics. My buddies and boss picked up on it, too. I heard “It is what it is” so much that I began to think it was an approved mentality of the unit, a sanctioned mindset.

Well, my observation was incontrovertibly validated the moment I heard the unit’s battalion commander speak. He led a handover brief to us that covered the major events and efforts of his unit’s tour, and I heard “It is what it is” more times than I can count. “The Iraqi Army unit you’re partnering with can’t show up to an operation on time, but it is what it is.” “We’ve got a really small post here, so parking will be tight. It is what it is.” “We took a lot of casualties in this area, so you should be prepared for that. It is what it is.”


He used the phrase to explain (or rather, excuse) action and inaction, misfortune and blessing, success and failure. And as I alluded, the phrase had evolved from words to mindset and permeated the command climate in the unit. Ever since that interaction in 2007, I’ve been passively tuned-in for the phrase and have heard it several times each year in follow-on assignments.

Why It’s Stupid – Here