Catch 22

or Catch-22 or catch 22

[kach twen-tee-too]

What does Catch 22 mean?

To get a job, you need experience. But to get experience you, you need to have had a job. It's a Catch 22.

From the novel of the same name, a Catch 22 is a situation where one is trapped by two contradictory conditions. It's more broadly used for a "paradox" or "dilemma" in general.

Related words:

Examples of Catch 22


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
After a more than seventy year absence, the breathtakingly beautiful island of Sardinia is once again echoing to the clattering roar of R-2600 radial engines. Sardinia, a semi-autonomous region of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, is hosting a small fleet of WWII-era warbirds, including a brace of B-25J Mitchell bombers, a Douglas Dakota and a Junkers Ju 52/3m. The aircraft are taking part in filming for a new adaptation of Joseph Heller’s satirical anti-war anthem, Catch-22. 
Warbirds News (photo caption), June, 2018

Where does Catch 22 come from?

Catch 22

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.

Did you follow that?

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 its the double of (playing with duality in the novelty) 11 (also a kind of duplicate).


Since its publication, the influential Catch-22 has become part of the classics we all have to read in school, notably adapted into a 1970 film by Mike Nichols. Since the 1970s, its central problem, the Catch 22 (often without a hyphen and lowercase C), has become a common expression for any kind of a self-contradictory situation or unsolvable dilemma.

Who uses Catch 22?

People like to use Catch 22 to describe situations that they feel are contradictory, mixed-signaled, or just unfair.

Such contradictions are identified, in keeping with the original Catch-22‘s reference to a formal rule, in contemporary laws and regulations.

Catch 22 has softened to refer to any “plight” or “problem” more generally, ironic or paradoxical:

The novel Catch-22 is often quoted or referenced because of its keen discussions of war, society, and bureaucracy.

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