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For example

"it is what it is"

This multi-word statement has no real meaning if read literally (or at best a circular meaning), but it does express a meaning that is meta to its lexical meaning (a sense of helplessness and resignment).

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Related: “Everything is everything” – RegDwigнt Apr 21 '12 at 21:56
“C'est la guerre!” is similar. – user20379 Apr 21 '12 at 22:32
I disagree with your assertion that it expresses "a meaning that is meta to its lexical meaning (a sense of helplessness and resignment)". That assertion clutters up the question and makes it difficult to tell what, if anything, you are asking. – jwpat7 Apr 21 '12 at 23:03
@jwpat lexical meaning: "the object of the statement is itself". Actual meaning (arguably): "a sense of helplessness and resignment". I use the term "meta" to indicate that the true meaning is more abstract than the lexical. Can you expand upon your disagreement? – Ben Apr 21 '12 at 23:07
...although I agree with your assertion that it clutters the question. Perhaps the question was unclear in my mind when I asked it. – Ben Apr 21 '12 at 23:12
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Do you mean a word to describe that particular phrase? Or phrases like that in general?

If the latter, then I might suggest idiom.

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Of course, you're right. I suppose the use of idioms is so ingrained in the language I hadn't firmly grasped them as discrete terms of speech. – Ben Apr 21 '12 at 21:59

You might describe the phrase as a tautology (of the logical variety, not to be confused with a rhetorical tautology). With this phrase in particular, since its function is to remind the speaker or listener of the nature of reality, you might call it a meaningful tautology.

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Thanks - great answer – Ben Apr 21 '12 at 23:09
More like semantic(al) tautology (cf. rhetorical tautology) – Kris Apr 22 '12 at 5:32

This sounds like an inverted pleonasm of, "What is it?", which is "What is it that it is?" in literal form. "It is what it is" is a pointlessly redundant reply to the pleonasm, "What's that?".

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It is what it is is nothing more than an expression often said not to overthink the obvious. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. If a plumber is addressing a leak in a pipe, and there has been much rain the night before, it does not change the fact that the pipe is leaking. Except that what you are dealing with you must first look at at face value, then assess.

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Welcome to English.se. There are some handy formatting tools that could make your answer a little easier to read. – virmaior Apr 10 '14 at 6:43

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