Catch 22 Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

The world is full of catch-22 situations — here is what catch 22 means, where the phrase comes from, and how to use it in your own conversations!

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If you’re here, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard the term catch-22 and not known what it means. If that’s the case, don’t worry — you’re not alone! 

Catch-22 is a phrase with a rich history and a complex definition that takes a fair amount of time, effort, and research to truly understand. Luckily, we’re here to help you know what words mean and how to use them. 

This is what catch-22 means, where it comes from, and how to use it in your daily conversations! 

What Does Catch-22 Mean?

A catch-22 is a dilemma, awkward situation, or difficult circumstance in which there is no escape due to mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. These situations are characterized by dealing with a paradoxical rule or implication that paralyzes the person making the choice. While that definition might seem as confusing as the word itself, it will make more sense when looking at examples. 

One example of a catch 22 is when a job requires several years of experience to get a position, but you can only get that experience by being in that position. It creates a paradoxical problem that often leads to a frustrating situation for the people involved. Even if there is an answer to the dilemma, it is usually a problematic remedy that can lead to yet another problematic situation. 

Most catch-22s are found when someone is trying to find the only solution to a problem, but every option creates another paradox. This will often result in distress and confusion, as the various loopholes work against each other. 

In most cases, catch-22 situations are seen as illogical, unreasonable, or senseless, in which the resolution of a problem only leads to more problems. 

Where Does Catch-22 Come From?

This term catch-22 comes from the title of a novel written in 1961 by Joseph Heller called Catch-22. Interestingly, this book was previously known as Catch-18. 

Catch-22 tells a story in which the main character chooses to feign insanity in the face of danger to avoid combat missions. He does this to protect his own safety through the rejection of his own sanity and the embracing of madness. 

His fear of death comes from the death of a pilot named Snowden, who gets killed during a raid on Avignon, France. Following that event, the main character does everything they can to get out of flying more missions. 

The way that catch-22 is illustrated in the book is through a mental evaluation in which Yossarian, the main character, goes to the army psychiatrist to claim that he was insane. 

Even though another pilot named Orr had gotten off on insanity, if he requested to be taken away from combat duty, military regulation would label him as of sound mind. However, the character Doc Daneeka stated that wanting to escape death was the process of a rational mind, which served to prove his sanity. 

The absolute simplicity of this clause of catch-22 is the basis of the meaning of the phrase. The novel’s catch-22 displays absurd bureaucratic constraints that are placed on the soldiers by their commanding officer. It’s simple in its execution but clever enough to elicit a respectful whistle from the main character in the book. 

From the first chapter all the way through to the end, this book displays how catch-22 situations can lead to different illogical yet inescapable problems. 

Examples of Catch-22 Situations in the World

Catch 22 situations happen commonly throughout the world and often are written off as logical fallacies. While this is a fairly accurate assessment, understanding catch-22 situations as a unique logical dissonance can help you understand the world more effectively. 

Here are some examples of catch-22 situations that can happen in real life: 

  • A copyright lawyer’s job is to ensure that any illegal copyright activity is stopped, but if there was no unlawful copyright activity, the copyright lawyer wouldn’t have a job. 
  • You are an old woman receiving income assistance from the government that is insufficient to cover your needs. You think about getting a job, but part of the rule of income assistance states that you won’t get any more income assistance if you get a job. 
  • You dropped your glasses, and you need to find them. However, you need your glasses to see to look for your drinks. 
  • You are locked outside your house, and your keys are on the table inside. However, to get to them, you need to go in through the front door, which is locked, so you can’t get in. 


Catch-22 is a unique term since it originated out of a popular American book. Other common phrases like “doublespeak” have derived from similar books (in that case, 1984), but the phrase catch-22 is definitely among the most popular terms that originated in classic literature. 

Instead of coming from another language entirely, the term catch-22 was created entirely from English words that were ascribed new meaning. 

If you are interested in the origins, meanings, and definitions of other similarly popular phrases and words, take a look around the blog for The Word Counter. We specialize in helping people make the best of the English language and understand the world at large through that. 

If you want to start really impressing people with your lexicon and knowledge of the language, feel free to look around our blog!


  1. Simple Catch-22 Examples | Your Dictionary
  2. Catch-22 definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
  3. Catch-22 Definition & Meaning |