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Idiom

A Catch-22 Situation: Origin and Meaning

Meaning
A frustrating situation in which someone is trapped by contradictory rules. Often this is a situation in which the rules and regulations actually stop a problem from being solved. For example, a homeless person needs to find a job so that they can afford somewhere to live, but they cannot apply for a job because they have nowhere to live – this is a Catch-22 situation.
Origin
A Catch 22 Situation“Catch-22” comes from the title of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel. In the story, “Catch-22” was a rule followed by army doctors in The Second World War. If a frightened pilot tried to avoid a dangerous mission by claiming he was “insane”, this was seen as healthy and the doctor would diagnose him as “sane” and eligible to fly.

In contrast, any pilot who actually wanted to fly was marked as “insane” and would not be allowed to do so. So “Catch 22” was the perfect example of an illogical rule which made everyone unhappy. After the release of a film based on the book in 1970, the phrase “a Catch-22 situation” or “a Catch-22 fix” became widely used to mean a paradoxical problem.
Examples
The Sunday Times: Catch-22 Property Crisis: Young people don’t have enough money to get on the property ladder, but banks will only lend money to property-owners.”

Rob: “I’ve been looking everywhere for a job, but no-one will give me an interview because I don’t have any work experience.”
Rachel: It’s a Catch-22 situation – until someone offers you a job, you won’t be able to get any experience.”

Hannah: “I’ve found myself in a real Catch-22 fix – if I go back to work I can hardly make enough money to pay for childcare, but if I stay at home to look after the baby I can hardly make enough money to pay for food and rent – either way, I’m struggling to survive financially.”