• catch-22 •
kæch-twe-ny-tu • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A no-win situation for which the only solution is following a rule that is blocked by another rule. 2. A paradoxical situation in which you cannot obtain A without B, but B requires A (the chicken or the egg problem).
Notes: In its original usage (see Word History), catch-22 was a trap preventing soldiers from leaving the army. Insanity is sufficient reason for discharge; however, to ask for such a discharge proves your sanity since only a sane person would want to leave military service. You can pluralize this noun, catch-22s, but that is all the change it can endure.
In Play: Here is a contemporary catch-22 you might have encountered yourself: "I tried to get the utilities turned on at the house we had just moved into. The utility companies told me that they had to see a bank statement as proof of my ability to pay. The bank told me that in order to open a new account, I must present them with utility bills as proof of my address. There I was, standing in the middle of a catch-22." Job hunting is often deterred by a common catch-22: no job without experience, no experience without a job.
Word History: Today's Good Word originated in the antiwar novel, Catch 22 (1961) by the US author Joseph Heller (1923-1999). The English words catch and capture, believe it or not, come from the same word. Catch came from Old North French cachier, inherited from Latin captare "to grasp, seize". Capture came from the French modification of Latin captura "catching of animals", a noun based on the same Latin verb, captare.