In previous posts we have seen  idioms with names. Catch-22 or a Catch-22 situation is one of many common English expressions with numbers. Other frequently used number idioms which we shall also see in future posts include:
  • Two’s company; three’s a crowd
  • Take five
  • At sixes and sevens
  • Seventh heaven
  • On cloud nine
  • The eleventh hour

Catch-22, what the F**k does that mean?

When you see or hear this common English expression, you may well be asking yourself the same question:

What the F*** does that mean?

Catch-22 Meaning

When ‘it’s Catch-22‘ or you’re in a ‘Catch-22 situation‘, it means that you are in a difficult no-win situation.
Think of a scenario where you need experience to get a job… «How can I get any experience until I get a job that gives me experience?»  –  Brantley Foster in The Secret of My Success

Catch-22 is a dilemma


Example sentences

  1. I can’t start my own business until I find the money, but I can’t get the money until I start the business. Shit, this is a real Catch-22 situation.
  2. Working parents of young children are in a Catch-22 situation because child-care centres are closed during the Coronavirus crisis.
  3. This is a really Catch-22 question you’re asking me. It won’t make any difference to you whether I answer yes or no.


Catch-22 Origin

Catch-22 is the title of a novel by Joseph Heller (1961) in which the protagonist pretends to be insane in order to avoid being sent to participate in dangerous combat missions. However, the fact that he doesn’t want to go to war is considered to be proof of his sanity.


Cover Catch-22
Cover of Joseph Heller’s novel ‘Catch-22’

Other common English expressions from books

Catch-22 isn’t the only expression that comes from a book. Others include:


Go down the rabbit hole

This means that a situation is getting out of control and you’re about to «go down the rabbit hole». It originates from Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


In Dr. Seuss’s book If I Ran the Zoo, nerd is used to describe a creature from «Ka-Troo land»


Cyberspace was first seen in the book Neuromancer by William Gibson.  It refers to a VR data space in which the protagonist finds himself.



To finish off, here’s a short video with so you’ll be able to remember this expression better!

Catch-22 – You’ve put me in an impossible situation!


Be sure to use Catch-22 next time you feel that way, and you’ll sound more natural in English conversation.