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a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.
any illogical or paradoxical problem or situation; dilemma.
a condition, regulation, etc., preventing the resolution of a problem or situation; catch.
Contemporary Examples

Yeah, those books: The Things They Carried, The Hunters, Catch-22.
Can Joyce Carol Oates Write a War Novel? Elliot Ackerman January 29, 2014

It is no small irony that the 50th anniversary of Catch-22 should coincide so closely with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
The Catch in “Catch-22” Morris Dickstein September 3, 2011

I have to say, of all possible reactions to Catch-22, this is one that makes least sense to me.
A Rather Misguided Catch-22 Reaction David Frum January 1, 2013

The genius of Catch-22 is not so much in its point of view as in the explosive originality of its technique.
The Catch in “Catch-22” Morris Dickstein September 3, 2011

It is for sure a Catch-22, but who wants to be the person beating their head against the wall?
Massachusetts Republicans Missing in Action in U.S. Senate Race John Avlon February 6, 2013

One thing we can guarantee: Like Yossarian in Catch-22, these findings will help you “live forever or die in the attempt.”
10 Ways to Live Forever The Daily Beast February 21, 2010

An inscribed copy of the book (like my copy of Catch-22, signed by Joseph Heller) is one of my treasures.
Book Bag: Kurt Andersen’s Favorite ’60s Books Kurt Andersen July 16, 2012

In some ways, battalion commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan face a Catch-22 in introducing untraceable cash to the battlefield.
SIGIR Audit Finds Some U.S. CERP Funds Went to Insurgents in Iraq Eli Lake April 28, 2012

It can result in a Catch-22 for ambitious upstarts: internships offer a foot in the door—but at what economic cost?
Introducing Intern Magazine, Which Sparks Debate About Intern Culture Misty White Sidell July 29, 2013

They will return, though, only when Libya enjoys stability and security—a Catch-22.
Libya’s Optimistic Leader: Mahmoud Jibril Poised for Historic Election Victory Jamie Dettmer July 8, 2012

a situation in which a person is frustrated by a paradoxical rule or set of circumstances that preclude any attempt to escape from them
a situation in which any move that a person can make will lead to trouble

from the title of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel. In widespread use only after release of the movie based on the book in 1970. The “catch” is that a bomber pilot is insane if he flies combat missions without asking to be relieved from duty, and is thus eligible to be relieved from duty. But if he asks to be relieved from duty, that means he’s sane and has to keep flying.

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 was 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.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

See catch (n.).

(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.

Note: Figuratively, a “catch-22” is any absurd arrangement that puts a person in a double bind: for example, a person can’t get a job without experience, but can’t get experience without a job.


: puts me in a Catch– 22 fix


A condition or requirement very hard to fulfill, esp one which flatly contradicts others: It was a classic catch–22. The problem was that it was a top-secret project they weren’t supposed to know about

[1960s+; fr the title of a 1961 satirical novel by Joseph Heller]
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.


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