Is there a British expression called "Catch-22," and if there is, what does it mean?
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The origins of the term, or "catch-phrase" "Catch-22" did not come from England; instead, the term was coined by the author Joseph Heller in his 1961 anti-war satire Catch-22 (my favorite novel!).
The phrase, Catch-22, is a "logical paradox" or conundrum in which
"... an individual needs something that can only be acquired by not being in that very situation; therefore, the acquisition of this thing becomes logically impossible. Catch-22s are often spoken with regard to rules, regulations, procedures, or situations in which one has knowledge of being or becoming a victim but has no control over it occurring."
In the case of Heller's main character, Captain John Yossarian, an Air Force bombardier serving in Italy during World War II (and based on Heller's own experiences), Yossarian seems to be the only airman concerned for his own safety. Every time he nears the minimum number of required bombing missions (that will allow him to go home), the number is raised. So, Yossarian pretends to be insane, but in order to be declared unfit for duty, one must request an evaluation; by doing so, officials deem the man sane, making it impossible to be relieved of duty. "... anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy" is just one of the many Catch-22's found in the novel.
The number of the catch, 22, has no particular meaning. Heller originally used several other numbers, the first being "Catch-18," which was the original title when it first appeared as a magazine excerpt several years before the release of the novel. Heller also considered the numbers 11 (too similar to the 1960 movie Oceans Eleven), 14 (his publisher thought it was a "funny number") and 17 (which could have been confused with the film Stalag 17) before deciding on 22. The repeated digit, 2, also held
"... a number of déjà vu-like events common in the novel."
The only British connection I could find concerning "Catch-22" is a social charity organization named Catch22, which helps youth in finding employment and educational assistance.
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