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It's all I can do to stop myself from checking the website every 5 seconds!

I know what this phrase means, but does anybody know where it came from? On the face of it, it doesn't make any sense. This phrase stands on its own, and means "I find it difficult not to check the website every 5 seconds", so what, exactly, is all the speaker can do to stop himself from checking? What does the "it" stand for?

  • I suggest you look it up in a dictionary. – Robusto Jul 25 '13 at 20:23
  • "It" is all you can do to stop yourself from checking the website every 5 seconds, I guess. – user19148 Jul 25 '13 at 20:42
  • all is what you can do to stop yourself from checking the website every 5 seconds, and nothing more, perhaps. – user19148 Jul 25 '13 at 20:45
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"It" in such sentences seems to take the place of an unexpressed subject.

E.g. "It's raining."

"It" in this case appears to take the place of "The weather at the moment".

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    So, in this case, the "it" would be whatever action the person is performing that stops thems from checking the website? – tkendrick20 Jul 25 '13 at 21:04
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    Yes, indeed, it is. – Cyberherbalist Jul 25 '13 at 21:10
  • Cyber, can such "it" be a false it? I.e., an "it" that has a grammatical function but no specific lexical meaning? Or, am I semantically wronglying? – user19148 Jul 25 '13 at 21:41
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    The term is Extraposition, and the _it is a dummy._ – John Lawler Jul 25 '13 at 22:56
  • Thanks for that, @JohnLawler. "Dummy" is so pejorative, though. Wouldn't "placeholder" be more polite? :-) – Cyberherbalist Jul 26 '13 at 16:07
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Example of the phrase being used without an antecedent: It's all she can do

At 2:43 CNN Reporter Chris Lawrence says, "In fact, she told me that sometimes it's all she can do to bottle it up and walk away."

There is no antecedent for it in this clip. In this case, "it's all she can do to..." means "her only option is to".

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I've never seen this phrase used where an "it" was not specified. Usually the sentence you provided would be preceded by something like "I've got to keep my mind occupied. It's all I can do to stop myself from checking the website every 5 seconds!"

  • So, "it" is "to keep my mind occupied" and "all" is "to keep my mind occupied", hence "it"="all", no? – user19148 Jul 25 '13 at 20:48
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    That phrase is commonly used without an antecedent. Heck, looks for the lyrics to The Cars' "It's All I Can Do". The phrase starts the chorus and has no obvious antecedent in the verse. – Ladlestein Jul 25 '13 at 22:53
  • @Ladlestein Yeah, that's because the lyricist is leaving the "it" open for interpretation. The listener assigns an appropriate value to "it" based on the context of the song. In OP's example there is no other context, which is why it is strange. – tkendrick20 Jul 26 '13 at 13:05

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