Christina Hendricks in “Firefly” (Joan, before she was Joan)

“It is what it is,” Joan said to Peggy, in a recent episode of the fabulous “Mad Men.”   What?  That phrase yanked me from the show’s dream.  The series is usually stylistically true to the 1960s era in many ways, with notable exceptions (some of which are broken down by graphic designer Mark Simonson in a post on his blog here.  And by the way, any fontanista “Mad Men” fan should read Mr. Simonson’s post.  I’m neither a designer nor an intimate knower of typefaces, but I like anyone who’s that nerdy and accurate about anything.  Really, it’s a good lesson in typeface histories, and in the importance of paying close attention.)

Writing and words are my bag, so I tend to pay too-close attention when characters open their mouths or do anything.  This particular episode (“At The Codfish Ball”) takes place in 1966 or 1967.  I guess it’s possible  that a human would have said, “It is what it is,” back then, but that phrase might also have sounded even more imbicyllic in the relatively more articulate world of “back then” than it does now.  (Which seems impossible, but…)  And it certainly clunked on the well-polished floor of Sterling/Cooper.

As a fan of the show, I will forgive plenty.  But I hope this was just a blip, maybe, as my husband said, the writers use the phrase and didn’t notice it.  I’m sure writing for TV is rapid and crazy.  It’s a good reminder, though, about not using phrases that I don’t want popping up in my writing.

One thought on “(But it wasn’t what it is)

  1. I had the same reaction, which is why I decided to try to determine the origin of this phrase (which I can’t abide in 2013, let alone as spoken by a character from 1966). My husband insists that it is an old phrase, but I don’t recall ever hearing it before three or four years ago. Even if it can be traced to 1949 or earlier, as seems to be the case, I don’t believe that it was used colloquially until very recently.

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