There was the following sentence in July 19 New York Time’s editorial titled “Democrats Gain the Upper Hand”:

“Senator Patty Murray, a member of the Democratic leadership, said Monday that her party was prepared to let all the Bush-era tax cuts expire on Jan. 1 if Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy. Republican leaders quickly voiced horror at these tactics. “Has it come to this?” said Speaker John Boehner, accusing Democrats of holding the economy hostage for the sake of high-end tax increases. ”

I don’t get the meaning of “Has it come to this?” Is it a popular idiom? What does “it” represent for? Isn’t it just a typo of “How it come to this?”?


I got many answers from you. I realized “Has it come to this?”? is not a typo, but I'm still not very clear. I feel like ‘scratching an itch through the sole of shoe’ in our local expression. What is the brief and clear-cut translation of this phrase? Can you paraphrase it just in a few words? Is it like an exclamation, “What’s a hell of this!"?

  • 7
    So, it has come to this! xkcd.com/1022 Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:54
  • @YoichiOishi I suggest that you ask for a clarification by adding a comment below the answer that is the most promising. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 21:05

6 Answers 6


John is expressing his horror at the tactics by "asking" the somewhat rhetorical question "Has it come to this?". This phrase implies that he almost cannot believe that such tactics would be used, hence voicing his horror, as mentioned.

In this phrase, it is hard for me to think of what "it" represents, but I could say that it could mean "their desperation" -

"Has their desperation come to this?"
"Has their desperation really increased this much?"
"Have they really become this desperate?"
"Have they really become so desperate that they would use such tactics?"

  • 1
    "it" is the state of things.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:06
  • If you wish to generalize, yes, but remember that this question is asking what this phrase means in the sentence specified.
    – Spooky
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:16
  • 1
    I assure you that I have no trouble remembering that. The point is that my statement is correct ... in response to your difficulty in thinking of what "it" represents. There is no point in being so specific -- if you were to ask Boehner whether he meant their desperation, he would gladly assent, but he would also do so for numerous other negative attributes. The fact is that "it" here doesn't mean "their desperation", it means "how things are".
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:24
  • Sure, because "Are things this way?", "Has the state of things come to this?", and "Have things come to this?" are excellent answers (why don't you add them?). Although technically correct, generalizations aren't always the most helpful responses to questions that follow a template of "What does X mean in Y?".
    – Spooky
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 2:04
  • In this case the context is not given, so a generalization is perfectly find, and so is guessing at the specifics, since there are clues in the sentance. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 2:14

In "Has it come to this?", the word it is a dummy pronoun. It stands for "the state of things as they are".

As another answer notes, John Boehner's remarks are rhetorical, intended to make it appear as if the Democrat methods are completely immoral as opposed to politics as usual. (Of course they may be both.) Note, the phrase "holding the economy hostage" is often heard when the US federal budget is overdue; in the case at hand, it might refer instead to the uncertainty that afflicts American business when tax law is in flux, which makes tax-planning like gambling.

Your suggestion ("How it come to this?") is ungrammatical; however, one can say "How has it come to this?" or "How did it come to this?".

  • I miswrote “How it come to this?” for “How has it come to this?, ” which I thought John Boemer meant. And I thought ‘it’ meant “the state of things as they are” as you suggest, or “the status quo they are in,” and I suspected if ‘Has it come to this” is just a typo of“How (has) it come to this? ” Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 23:29
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    @YoichiOishi That's not what he meant, and it's not a typo. He isn't asking how, he's asking whether. But he really isn't asking at all. the question is rhetorical.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:08

More often than not, "Has it come to this?" is used to convey intense concern and possible disgust and disappointment at the current situation (pertaining to the topic of discussion), without having to articulate what exactly about the situation demands such a concern. In other words, the phrase is employed for dramatic effect by leaving what "come" and "this" refer to, to the imagination of the reader, because writing it out in words would not have the intended effect.

Obligatory XKCD:

'Come to what?' 'You. Me. This moment.'

Comic #1022

  • +1 When it has an xkcd, you know it means more than face value.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:21
  • 1
    +1 Really xkcd, "has it come to this?"
    – blunders
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 2:00

'Has' is correct. The pattern:

Has it come to this?

is general surprise that events have unfolded in this manner. One is seeing an unwanted event and wondering how things have changed from before that would lead to such a thing.

For example:

Children talking back to their parents? In my day, any child would be scared to death to speak with such impertinence. Nowadays, they'll tell you to shut up and get out of the way of the video game as much as brush a fly away. To get them to listen to you, you have to mention money. Has it come to this?

One might also say "How has it come to this?" (in what way have things arrived at this situation).

The "it" is non-referential. It's not the totally empty 'there' in 'there is', but is somewhat general, meaning 'things' or 'All relevant events so far'.

  • 1
    "it" refers generally to state of things, and specifically to that aspect of the state of things that the speaker is disturbed by.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:10

I think the intent here is has the tax cut situation come to this fork in the road. The Republicans either have to raise taxes for the wealthy or the Democrats will let the tax cuts expire causing the taxes to increase either way. So it's basically saying that the Democrats have given the Republicans an ultimatum to pick which route they want to go, raise taxes themselves or let the tax cuts expire causing the same outcome. The statement really speaks to the dirty hand that the Democrats are playing in that they have to either do it or the Democrats will force it to happen.

  • 4
    "The Republicans either have to raise taxes for the wealthy" -- poor things. "The statement really speaks to the dirty hand that the Democrats are playing in that they have to either do it or the Democrats will force it to happen." -- that's quite a spin.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 1:12
  • Only in politics... :) Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 2:55
  • –1 for the political diatripe [sic].
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 0:23

In keeping with jwpat7's answer, the phrase that "it" may refer to could be state of affairs.

Where the "it" being decried has a more extensive human impact, e.g., distress over international arms trade, the dummy term may represent the world.

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