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1. A problem, task, situation, or course of action in which the outcome or solution one desires is especially difficult or impossible to achieve due to contradictory, illogical, or paradoxical rules, regulations, or conditions. The term comes from the title of the 1961 novel by Joseph Heller, in which a fighter pilot attempts to avoid further combat missions under a statute stating that any pilot who willingly continues to fly missions is insane. However, he is thwarted by the pronouncement that if a pilot requests to stop flying, he proves his sanity by showing a concern for his own safety. The company's cost-reduction plan is a Catch-22—they need to lay off half the staff to keep the company open, but with so few people, we won't be able to complete all the work that's needed to earn enough revenue.
2. Any illogical, contradictory, or paradoxical rule or regulation, especially one that makes a desired outcome or solution impossible. The bank's overdraft policy is a Catch-22 for those trying to get out of poverty, as it charges you higher fees for having less money in your account.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
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.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
a Catch 22
A Catch 22 is an extremely frustrating situation in which one thing cannot happen until another thing has happened, but the other thing cannot happen until the first thing has happened. There's a Catch 22 in social work. You need experience to get work and you need work to get experience. Note: You can also talk about a Catch 22 situation. It's a Catch 22 situation here. Nobody wants to support you until you're successful but without the support, how can you ever be successful? Note: This expression comes from the novel `Catch 22' (1961), by the American author Joseph Heller, which is about bomber pilots in the Second World War. Their `Catch 22' situation was that any sane person would ask if they could stop flying. However, the authorities would only allow people to stop flying if they were insane.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
a catch-22 situationa dilemma or difficulty from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.
The classic statement of this situation is in Joseph Heller 's novel Catch-22 ( 1961 ), from which the expression is taken: ‘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.’
1997 New Scientist It's a catch-22 situation: you cannot get the job without having the relevant experience and you cannot get the experience without having first done the job.
See also: situation
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
a catch-22 situation(informal) a difficult situation from which there is no escape because you need to do one thing before doing a second, and you cannot do the second thing before doing the first: I can’t get a job because I haven’t got any experience, but I can’t get experience until I get a job — it’s a catch-22 situation. Catch-22 is the title of a novel by Joseph Heller, in which the main character pretends to be crazy in order to avoid dangerous situations in war. The authorities say that he cannot be crazy if he is concerned about his own safety.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
n. a directive that is impossible to obey without violating some other, equally important, directive. There was nothing I could do. It was a classic catch-22.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Situation in which one can’t win because one is trapped by a paradox. The term arose in the 1961 novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. It refers to an air force rule whereby a pilot is considered insane if he continues to fly combat missions without asking for relief, but if he asks for relief he is considered sane enough to continue flying. The term was further popularized by a motion picture and today is used to describe common dilemmas in civilian life. Opera singer Renée Fleming described it well: “For potential engagements, the catch-22 was that it was very hard to get an audition if you didn’t have a manager, and it was almost impossible to get a manager unless you’d won an audition” (The Inner Voice, 2004). See also damned if you do, damned if you don't.
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer