The "Is, Is" Phenomenon

by Paul Eprile

Published at 2011-05-27

For a while I thought I was hearing things. The sounds came and went so fast, it was impossible to confirm them with the naked ear. But yes, with closer attention, I proved myself right. A new form of “is, is” has arisen in everyday speech, and it is clearly here to stay.

The new “is, is” is far different from, for example, the grammatical use of “is, is” in the Ethics of the seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (albeit in translation): “All that is, is God.” In this context, “All that is” constitutes a noun clause that in turn becomes the subject of the following phrase. (To further thicken the plot, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once declared—again grammatically, and again in translation—that Spinoza's "teaching amounts to saying: ‘The world is because it is; and it is as it is because it is so…’” But let’s leave this aside.)
With regard to the new “is, is” phenomenon, which is blatantly ungrammatical, please don’t tell me to “just get over it because it is what it is”!
When I listened recently to Barack Obama discussing the assassination of Osama bin Laden, I knew the battle was over. Twice Obama, an educated, articulate man, spoke the words “The fact of the matter is, is that…”
This is the new “is, is” phenomenon, or “epidemic,” as a fellow named Steve has dubbed it on YouTube ( It has taken root, and it is spreading. Whether it will find its way into the written and printed word remains to be seen. For the moment, it appears to be a kind of unconscious linguistic tic, a slip of the mental tongue.
It can arise in many parallel phrases: “The problem is, is that…” “The situation is, is that…” People are needlessly reduplicating the verb. As Steve points out, if these phrases were introduced with “what,” they would be grammatical, if inelegant: “What the problem is, is that…”
Attune your ears, and you’ll start to pick up the new “is, is” everywhere.
Why is this happening? It is ungrammatical, illogical, and hopelessly redundant. We may have to turn to linguists to find a convincing explanation. In the meantime, rest assured, if the new “is, is” ever shows up in writing, we editors will expunge it ruthlessly!
Update, June 6th: I have now come across a comment on a web page, from 2009, identifying the "Is, Is Phenomenon," and coincidentally calling it by the same name: A Google advanced search for the string "the fact is is that" now yields 48 pages (approximately 500 instances) of results, only a few of them lamenting the new usage.