on behalf of a researcher

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Feb 16 22:59:52 UTC 2006

At 2:37 PM -0800 2/16/06, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
>this is posted on behalf of Aaron Britt, who is now doing the
>research and reporting for William Safire.  i've given him a
>moderately lame response.  maybe some of you can do better.  please
>copy your response to him at: aarondbritt at gmail.com.
>There is a phrase that has been in the news lately- Scott McClellan
>and Britney Spears have both used it in the last couple weeks and I
>wonder if you can tell me more about it.  The phrase is: It is what
>it is.
>What precisely does this mean?  How does this phrase function in
>conversation?  It seems to suggest that there's no more to say, or is
>this a ruse to try to shut down conversation?  When someone utters
>this phrase what are they trying to convey?  Can you think of other
>phrases that convey the same thing, or nearly the same thing?  Some
>that come to mind are 'What's done is done' or 'It speaks for itself.'

There's been a lot of discussion of the discourse effect of
tautologies in the pragmatics literature over the years, at least
since Grice's William James lectures (1967), concentrating on such
figures as identity statements ("Boys will be boys", "War is war"),
excluded-middle disjunctions ("Either she's a Communist or she
isn't"), and self-implicating conditionals ("If he's guilty, he's
guilty").  Notice the difference between

If it's X, it's X
(or Xs are Xs)

--which implicate the non-discriminability among Xs


There are Xs and (then) there are Xs.

--which implicates just the opposite


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list