For a long time, all I had known was that there was a novel called Catch-22 written by Joseph Heller. I saw the book on one of our many bookshelves. It was blue and the text was white. I knew nothing else of it. Then, on a cartoon, I heard “23 skidoo” and wondered if those two things had anything in common, so I asked my Daddy. He said that they didn’t, but he did explain the novel, Catch-22.
The main character wants to get out of combat, but he can’t get out of combat. The reason for this is that he would have to be considered crazy to get out of combat. However, anybody that actually wants to get out of combat is not crazy and they are the people who are going to try to get out by being listed as crazy. Yet, people who are crazy are not going to try to get out of combat. They are going to stay in combat and because they are not requesting to get out of combat, then cannot be listed as crazy.
Apparently there is no true significance to the number 22 in the phrase catch 22. However, it can be considered somewhat significant because it is double and the 2 refers to many deja vu situations that happen in the novel.
The phrase, when used correctly, means that one situation cannot be escaped by the reasoning needed, and then that if you are able to give the reasoning need to escape the situation, you are not able to escape the situation.
However, many people use the phrase the incorrect way simply referring to a problematic or unwanted situation.
I am a fan of the TV show M*A*S*H. If anybody else is a fan of this show, a catch 22 situation is shown all the time.
Corporal Maxwell Klinger wants to get out of the army, so he tries to get a section 8 (that means that he would be listed as crazy). However, this only proves that Klinger is sane because he does not want to be in the war or in combat. Klinger will constantly try different things. He’ll dress in women’s clothes and give all kinds of excuses. Of course, this is good comedy for the show, but it is a catch 22 situation.
M*A*S*H is also know for other catch 22 situations, but they can be harder to find. One has to do with a soldier wanted to send a letter. Another has to do with Winchester and a group of musicians that drive him insane. Elaborting on the last situation, there is a group of Korean musicians that drive Winchester insane because they cannot play well. He wants them to go away, but they will not go away. He figures as long as they will not go away, he will teach them to play the music that he likes. All the time that he wants them to go away, they will not leave. Of course, once they do leave, Winchester misses them and they do not come back.
While this is not a complete catch 22, it is very close.
Martin, Gary. “Catch 22”. The Phrase Finder. June 7, 2010 http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/catch-22.html>.