Origin of Catch-22
Words nearby Catch-22
MORE ABOUT CATCH 22
What does Catch-22 mean?
Coming from the novel of the same name, a Catch-22 is a situation where one is trapped by two contradictory conditions. It’s more generally used to refer to a paradox or dilemma.
Example: to get a certain job, you need work experience. But to get that work experience, you need to have had a job. It’s a Catch-22.
Where does Catch-22 come from?
Catch 22 comes from Joseph Heller’s 1961 classic novel, Catch-22, a satirical depiction of the American military bureaucracy in World War II. In it, Heller describes a military regulation, Catch-22, putting a pilot named Orr in an impossible situation:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to, but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
The word catch, here, is a “hidden difficulty” or “snag,” a sense dating back to the 1850s. The novel’s first chapter was published under Catch-18 in 1955, later changed to 22 to avoid confusion with another contemporaneous novel with 18 in its title.
The number 22 was chosen, apparently, because it’s the double of 11 (playing duality and duplication).
Since its publication, the influential Catch-22 has become part of the classics many of us read in school. The novel was notably adapted into a 1970 film by Mike Nichols. Since the 1970s, its central problem, the Catch-22 (often spelled without a hyphen and lowercase C), has become a common expression for any kind of a self-contradictory situation or unsolvable dilemma.
How is Catch-22 used in real life?
People like to use Catch 22 to describe situations that they feel are contradictory, sending mixed signals, or just unfair.
Antisemites in #Europe love to say to Jews: „go where you belong to, go to #Israel!“ But then at the same time these Antisemites don’t accept #Israel‘s right to exist. Lovely catch 22, isn’t it?
— Richard C. Schneider (@rc_schneider) June 25, 2018
Such contradictions are identified at Catch-22’s, in keeping with the term’s reference to a formal rule, in contemporary laws and regulations.
Catch-22. We are preventing families from lawfully requesting asylum at ports of entry while drafting a policy that doesn't allow people who enter between ports from getting asylum. Happening in a country comprised of asylum seekers from the world over. https://t.co/lyfBJ0uYAS
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) June 30, 2018
Catch 22 has also expanded to refer to any plight or problem more generally.
Becoming used to hyper-efficient/ high work loads is a catch 22 because when you have a moment to relax, you're feeling so incredibly restless
— Renée (@reneekapuku) June 28, 2018
The novel Catch-22 is often quoted or referenced because of its keen discussions of war, society, and bureaucracy.
More examples of Catch-22:
“Sounds like a complete Catch 22. You make a new claim and they put you through the mill or you wait to see what happens and they terminate what you have been entitled to and delay several weeks to intentionally put you into debt. Sadistic evil government.”
—@ghost36hop9, June 2018
“Federal funding represents a Catch-22 for local governments. Cash-strapped cities like Jackson need the money to help with billions of dollars in infrastructure needs…But cities that take federal dollars know their projects will be subject to numerous federal regulations that increase costs and stretch out completion times by months or years.”
—Anthony Warren, The Northside Sun, June 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
How to use Catch-22 in a sentence
They all immediately dashed out to their car to catch the bad guys.Shot Down During the NYPD Slowdown|Michael Daly|January 7, 2015|DAILY BEAST
“The government just wanted to catch the big fish [in the Juarez cartel] and they ignored everything in between,” Lozoya said.
From a lyrical standpoint, there are precious few that can catch Kendrick.The 14 Best Songs of 2014: Bobby Shmurda, Future Islands, Drake, and More|Marlow Stern|December 31, 2014|DAILY BEAST
With Rick, I think the culture just lags behind great artists much of the time, and it takes time for it to catch up.Coffee Talk with Ethan Hawke: On ‘Boyhood,’ Jennifer Lawrence, and Bill Clinton’s Urinal Exchange|Marlow Stern|December 27, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Phone lines would catch fire from the velocity and ferocity of his words.David Garth, the Consultant Who Talked Up to Voters|Jeff Greenfield|December 15, 2014|DAILY BEAST
While you were admiring the long roll of the wave, a sudden spray would be dashed over you, and make you catch your breath!Music-Study in Germany|Amy Fay
If I could catch Laura's eye—but I suppose it would hardly be decent to go just yet.
Then Squinty would toss the apple up in the air, off his nose, and catch it as it came down.Squinty the Comical Pig|Richard Barnum
But what if I catch the fish by using a hired boat and a hired net, or by buying worms as bait from some one who has dug them?The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice|Stephen Leacock
We nearly played our horses out galloping around looking for you—after we'd gone a mile or so, and you didn't catch up.Raw Gold|Bertrand W. Sinclair
British Dictionary definitions for Catch-22
Word Origin for catch-22
Cultural definitions for Catch-22
(1961) A war novel by the American author Joseph Heller. “Catch-22” is a provision in army regulations; it stipulates that a soldier's request to be relieved from active duty can be accepted only if he is mentally unfit to fight. Any soldier, however, who has the sense to ask to be spared the horrors of war is obviously mentally sound, and therefore must stay to fight.
notes for Catch-22
Other Idioms and Phrases with Catch-22
A no-win dilemma or paradox, similar to damned if I do, damned if I don't. For example, You can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience unless you have a job—it's Catch-22. The term gained currency as the title of a 1961 war novel by Joseph Heller, who referred to an Air Force rule whereby a pilot continuing to fly combat missions without asking for relief is regarded as insane, but is considered sane enough to continue flying if he does make such a request.