Catch-22

A Catch-22 is a situation in which paradoxical rules make a desired outcome impossible to achieve. It comes from Joseph Heller’s 1961 World War II novel, Catch-22, in which a bomber pilot wishes to get out of flying missions by claiming to be insane, but cannot do so because asking not to fly more missions would be a sign that he is sane. In the book, the bureaucratic clause behind this logic is Catch-22.

Most publications capitalize the C and hyphenate Catch-22. This is safest, as it follows the novel’s title and the way Heller uses the term throughout his book. There are a few common variations, though—including catch-22, catch 22, and Catch 22. Whichever one you use, it doesn’t need to be in quotation marks.

Examples

So it’s a Catch-22: You can’t get hired unless you have experience; but you can’t get experience unless you’re hired. [Washington Post]

It’s a catch-22 for the budding researcher: Study long enough to make your big breakthrough, and you’ll find you’re too old to do so. [quoted in Globe and Mail]

Huntsman is the latest embodiment of the classic Catch-22 of partisan politics””the candidate most likely to win a general election has the hardest time winning the nomination. [Daily Beast]

But I feel like I’m in a Catch 22 situation. If I stop having sex with him, I’m throwing him back to her. If I do carry on, it’s like nothing has changed. [The Sun]

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