Sunday, April 13, 2014



What a remarkable word (pronoun) “it” is. While it generally refers to some particular object or behavior it also often refers to something much more general and, in some cases, may have virtually no meaning whatsoever. I am drawn to thinking of this because last night I had reason to believe that I may well be losing “it.” I was cooking dinner for us, baked chicken, some cranberry sauce, broccoli, asparagus, and dressing. I also intended to serve some French dinner rolls. When I removed the chicken from the oven I put in the frozen dinner rolls that supposedly take only 8 minutes to cook. I forgot them, didn’t serve them, and didn’t remember them until several hours later. By then, of course, they had turned blacker than the blackest of coal, and I worried that, indeed, I must be losing “it.” This could refer to my memory, my cooking, my timing, my sanity, or whatever.

Usually “it” refers to something in particular, something in context that the speakers are all aware of, like “where did you put it,” referring to the butter or paint or beer. But what about something like the recent Rachel Maddow documentary, “Why did we do it?” In this context the “it” refers obviously to the “war” with Iraq. This apparently expensive and time-consuming investigation concludes that “it” had to do with oil, something that anyone with a brain larger than a split pea already knew. But of course it is somewhat more complicated and the documentary does give us a bit more insight into why it happened. But this is not unlike asking why did “it” happen,”it” being WW II, an event that cannot really be described as an “it.”

We also might well ask, “Why did Putin do it?” The “it” in this context being his takeover of Crimea, and the answer being obvious to anyone not conditioned to believe Russia and Putin are simply evil, aggressive, empire builders with no important national interests. Then there is also the phrase, “kicking ’it’down the road,” usually referring to some decision Congress does not want to make.

How about “Let’s do ‘it’?” This could refer to any number of things, kissing, dating, going to the movies, even sex, or, more prosaically, building a chicken coop.  How about “she is the “it” girl of 2000? Or “you can’t do ‘it’ in the road because it might frighten the horses.”  Or John Lennon’s brilliant parody, “Why don’t we do ‘it’ in the road?” Then there are lyrics like “Birds do ‘it,’ bees do ‘it’, even little Pekinese do ‘it.’” How about “”’It’s’ the in thing to do,” or “’It’s’ not the right thing to do.”
“’It’ will happen when hell freezes over,” “’It’ will happen at the end of times,” “’It’ will be the end of the road,” “If you don’t mind ‘it’ don’t matter,” “We’re footing ‘it’ back to camp,” “’It’s’ a dirty, rotten shame,” “this is ‘it’,” “’It’s’ all in your mind,” “’It’ can’t happen here,””The Devil makes us do ‘it,’” “’It’s’ too late for tears,” “’It’s’ too much to bear,” How’s ‘it’ going,” “’It’s’ just politics as usual,” “’It’s’ just baying at the moon,” “What is ‘it’ and where did ‘it’ come from? “We don’t know what ‘it’ is, “We’re never going to find ‘it’,” and “When in doubt, kill ‘it.’”

Is there any other word in the English language with such a range of meanings and non-meanings, a word that can be so specific but also so general, a word than can simply gloss over complexity and reduce it to a simple two letter word, a word both precise and imprecise at the same time, a word that actually allows us to evade the complexities of the real problems facing us? There is a bill that would raise the minimum wage, vote against “it.” There is a bill that would help stop global warming, vote against “it.”There is a bill to stop voter fraud, vote for “it.” There is a vote to defund Planned Parenthood, vote for “it.” And so all of our decisions come down to voting either for “it” or against “it,” all nuances, facts, or complications aside. Don’t you just love “it?”

 By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.


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