Let’s Banish “It Is What It Is”

Language monitors offer some amazing insights into words and terms we should avoid.

it is what it is sign

What do I make of the current state of the mattress business? It is what it is, obviously. I do think we are coming to an inflection point soon, and I’m not gaslighting you when I say that. Moving forward, I think an amazing year is possible, irregardless of any problems that may crop up. Does that make sense? 

Actually, that paragraph shouldn’t make a lot of sense to you, because it is chock-full of words and phrases that we should be avoiding this year, according to a group that studies such things.

Michigan’s Lake Superior State University has taken on the formidable challenge of ferreting out “imprecise, trite and meaningless words and terms.” Each year, it publishes a tongue-in-cheek Banished Words List. I used seven of the 10 words and terms on the latest list in my opening paragraph. I’m sure you spotted them right away, but in case you didn’t, the offenders are: “It is what it is,” inflection point, gaslighting, moving forward, amazing, irregardless and “Does that make sense?”

One of my personal pet peeves is on that amazing list, and it is what it is, so, moving forward, let’s take a look at why those words and terms should be avoided. 

The language monitors at Lake Superior State University say their goal is “to uphold, protect and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, cliched, illogical, nonsensical — and otherwise ineffective, baffling or irritating.” That makes sense to me.

Here is their take on some of their latest banished words:

Inflection point: “Pretentious way to say turning point.”

Gaslighting: “Nominators are not crazy by arguing that overuse disconnects the term from the real concern it has identified in the past: Dangerous psychological manipulation that causes victims to distrust their thoughts, feelings, memories or perception of reality.”

Moving forward: “Where else would we go?”

Amazing: “Not everything is amazing; and when you think about it, very little is.”

Irregardless: This is not a word, it’s a double negative (not that I’m not OK with that), and it’s a dressed-up version of regardless.

Does that make sense? “Why say it, if you must ask? It just doesn’t make sense.”

 It is what it is. “Of course it is what it is! What else would it be? It would be weird if it wasn’t what it wasn’t.”

I’m pleased to report that I’ve avoided most of these words and terms in my writing and in my conversations with industry executives, although I do wonder if “inflection point” is getting a bad rap here, as it has a nice scholarly ring to it.

The Banished Words List notes that inflection point, a “mathematical term that entered everyday parlance and lost its original meaning,” is the new version of “pivot,” which joined the Banished Words List in 2021. Looking back, I admit that I liked “pivot,” which was right for those topsy-turvy early Covid times when many companies were executing pivots of one sort or another.

But I won’t argue about “it is what it is.” That phrase, which I encounter on an almost daily basis in my industry conversations, has always exceeded my inflection point, so to speak, and I refuse to accept its defeatist tone.

The term seems to suggest this is just the way things are, as frustrating as that may be. Let’s just accept this reality and move on.

I hear that sentiment a lot, and a lot of the time it misses the point. Sure, there are many things we can’t control these days, but we can always control our attitude about what is happening.

It’s the job of industry leaders to work for a better world and a better mattress industry. Instead of saying, “It is what it is,” why not look ahead with hope and say, “It could be what it could be.” That would be amazing in my book.

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