There are certain phrases you hear a lot these days.

There are certain phrases you hear a lot these days.


“It is what it is.” There’s one, reflecting  an observation that on its face seems argument-proof. 


And yet it's surprising how many people find it irritating.  


Why? Do they wish “the thing” were NOT what it is?  Does “It is what it is” sound too fatalistic to them? Too quick to close off the possibility that the thing might at any point become another thing, a thing perhaps far better than the thing that “is”?


So we have that loaded phrase.


Next, we have “What are you gonna do?” probably thanks to the HBO series "The Sopranos." Tony Soprano and his fellow thugs were always saying it,  especially when death came into the picture. “He pulled a gun so I stuffed him in my trunk, what are you gonna do?” What can anyone do?” it suggests, a position you’d be glad to take if you didn't want to be held accountable for anything.


Then there are the remarks that stand as greetings:


“How's it goin’?” is one, and “What's goin’ on?” is another.


Both questions are rhetorical, as we sense, because really the speaker’s just saying “Hi.”


Or “Hey!” as they say in some quarters.


Often the two come together, as in, “Hey! How's it goin’?” with the “Hey” signifying an element of pleased surprise, as if the person is saying “Well now, who is THIS well-intentioned fellow-citizen walking toward me now?”


“Hey” is fond. You’d never say, “Hey! I’m getting a ticket here?” In fact, saying such a thing might well get you a second ticket.


I recently learned about the power of loaded words in a ticketing situation myself:


I was idling in my car outside a city bus station, evidently in an area you’re not supposed to idle in.


I was waiting for a young person who, when he texted me to come, thought he was 10 minutes away, whereas in fact he was still a good 30 miles distant.


There were lots of other cars, no signs I could see, and at the time I parked I was sure the young person would be along any minute.


Suddenly a police officer was screaming “Move!” at me and gesturing angrily.


“Where else can I go?” I said, unrolling my window, thinking there must be the equivalent of an airport cellphone lot nearby.


That was my first mistake.


“I said ‘MOVE!’” he boomed.


So I replied, “Look, I’m happy to move, but there’s no need to be so unpleasant about it.”


And that was my second mistake.


“Stay right here,” he said in icy tones. “I am writing you UP!” he added, storming away.


Well, I didn’t stay and he didn’t write me up. He was busy yelling at two other drivers when  I inched away from the curb, drove north for 15 minutes, then circled back into the city when I judged my young person would actually be there.


And that night marks the moment I learned about yet another expression laden with meaning: the expression “Look,” used at the start of a sentence.


You hear it on talk radio, when the guest being interviewed gets sore at the way things are going. “Look,” the guest will say, and then go  aggressively on with his argument.


Turns out the word is short for “Look, idiot.”


And I had used it on a cop.


The words and phrases we use are highly nuanced, it seems. I was born in this country and have been using its language all my life and STILL I get in trouble, as you see. Imagine the challenge for those who are new here?


Write Terry at terrymarotta@verizon.net. Read fresh daily stories on her blog “Exit Only.”