a Catch 22
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 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