Have you ever heard the phrase “catch-22” but wondered what it really means? If so, you’re not alone—it’s one of the most well-known phrases in American culture. But where did the phrase come from?
The phrase “catch-22” was coined by author Joseph Heller in 1961. His novel is set during World War II. The novel, “Catch-22” refers to a paradoxical situation in which an individual is stuck between two courses of action, neither of which is acceptable or desirable. For example, Yossarian cannot be discharged from service because he is deemed mentally unfit; however, if he requests a mental evaluation then he will be judged “sane” and therefore required to stay in service. This situation puts him in a no-win position — a catch-22.
In modern usage, “catch-22” is used to refer to any situation that has no good outcome or solution regardless of what choice you make. It can also be used to describe situations where someone is subject to arbitrary rules and regulations with no recourse for appeal or change. The phrase has been popularized over time through its use in books, movies, television shows, and even everyday conversations about life’s impossible dilemmas.