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).

  • Related: “Everything is everything”
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 21, 2012 at 21:56
  • “C'est la guerre!” is similar.
    – user20379
    Apr 21, 2012 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. Apr 21, 2012 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?
    – 52d6c6af
    Apr 21, 2012 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.
    – 52d6c6af
    Apr 21, 2012 at 23:12

5 Answers 5


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

If the latter, then I might suggest idiom.

  • 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.
    – 52d6c6af
    Apr 21, 2012 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.

  • More like semantic(al) tautology (cf. rhetorical tautology)
    – Kris
    Apr 22, 2012 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?".


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.

  • Welcome to English.se. There are some handy formatting tools that could make your answer a little easier to read.
    – virmaior
    Apr 10, 2014 at 6:43

Everybody here takes everything so literally. I think the word for the phrase is "passive". You just let stuff happen. Apocalypse? Meh. It is what it is.

  • 1
    Hi Tyler. What is your reason for thinking the phrase is passive? Please expand on your answer with good reasoning. Aug 5, 2016 at 9:29

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