- the particular situation in which one cannot win
- a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of conflicting restrictions
- a difficult situation
- a problem from which one cannot get out
- an unreasonable, irrational, or meaningless situation
- a situation presenting two similarly unwanted solutions
- dilemma; quandary or predicament
- I couldn't start my own business until I have got money, and I couldn't get the money until I start my own business, oh my God, this is the real Catch-22 situation.
- David is caught in a Catch-22 situation, unable to choose which way to go.
- Working parents are in the Catch-22 situation as daycares remain shut during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The coal miners are in a Catch 22 situation; either quit working but have no income for themselves and their family or keep working until they are at death's door.
- James is presently in a catch-22 situation as he is struggling to get another work visa to find a good job somewhere else.
- I'm in a very catch-22 situation. I cannot give up because I feel that I would lose it whatever little chance I have of getting work now.
- In needing the experience to get a job..."How can I get any experience until I get a job that gives me experience?" – Brantley Foster in The Secret of My Success.
The idiom was first coined by Joseph Heller, an American writer who used it in his novel Catch-22 published on November 10, 1961.
The novel Catch-22 describes ridiculous official restrictions on soldiers in World War II. The idiom is introduced by the character Doc Daneeka, an army psychiatrist who invokes "Catch-22" to describe why any pilot demanding mental evaluation for insanity—hoping to be found not sane enough to fly and thereby escape dangerous missions—demonstrates his sanity in creating the request and thus cannot be declared insane. This phrase also means a dilemma or difficult situation from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure, there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't crazy."
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.