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“THIS IS THE THING ABOUT NICKLEBACK…they get a lot of hate, but they are still very proud of themselves, and they do very well regardless of the hate that they get.”

Does it simply mean the situation of things? or the situation has to be somewhat strange, hard-to-grasp and ironic to qualify for the use of "This is the thing"?

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The Oxford Idioms Dictionary for Learners of English, 2nd ed. gives the following definition:

the thing (about/with something) is (spoken)
 used to introduce an important fact, reason, or explanation:

  ○ I know you want to expand the business. The thing is, we haven't got the money to do that.
  ○ I'm really sorry I didn't call you. The thing is, I've been really busy lately.

In my own words, I'd say that this phrase optionally sets a topic of discussion (given with "about topic" or "with topic"), and then it announces to listeners that you're about to say something important about that topic.

Your example is a variation on this idiom:

The thing about Nickelback is, ...
This is the thing about Nickelback.

These two examples mean the same thing. They introduce a topic (Nickelback) and let the listener know that you're about to say something important about that topic.

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In this context, it could be substituted with "matter at hand", "essential/main point/issue/problem", or something similar. The "thing" doesn't have to be ironic, but "the thing is" that the speaker thinks the "thing" is important to emphasize. The main function of the phrase is to draw attention to what is said next, which "is the thing".

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I'd view the entire sentence as a kind of colloquial filler, along these lines:

Look. Here's the thing about English. What you have to understand is...

It certainly introduces the topic and indicates you're about to say something (hopefully) interesting about said topic, but it comes across to me as unnecessarily verbose.

Notice, for example, that the meaning of the paragraph doesn't change if you remove the whole first sentence. You just get to the point faster.

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