Monday, July 27, 2015

"What it is is" is a Nasty Way to Start a Sentence

"What it is is,” is a popular construction that to me feels like a soapbox of condescension wherein the speaker can imply a pedagogical relationship between him and the listener. In the mind's eye of its utterer, the student sits lotus-legged, gazing up in doe-eyed hero worship at the guru, the Buddha, the subject matter expert.

“You may think grammar is for pussies,” says Grammar Dick as he hitches up his belt and spits a stream of tobacco juice that splashes his boots. “But that’s not what it is. What it is is a message that you care enough to have learned the language’s rules and conventions. What it is is an act of love.”

A noble sentiment, but delivered in a didactic tone. I recommend avoiding it always. Most especially don’t write or say, “What it is is what it is.” If you’re going to do something that horrible, at least shuffle that deck into the clichéd but slightly more tolerable, “It is what it is.”

The “is is” construction is bad in every way; in its redundancy, in its unmusicality, and in its way of letting you know the upcoming speech is intended to salve a human ego rather than solve a human problem.