Thursday, August 11, 2011


Nephew Brian Sheehan asked about the term Catch-22. Catch-22 came from the 1961 novel of that name, and it appears that author Joseph Heller was the first person to use it. It refers to a no-win situation, a life-threatening obligation that one can’t escape, but I can’t find why Heller chose the number 22 instead of another. A catch is a snare or trap.

In the novel, a couple of WWII-era bombardiers are searching for a way to get out of their dangerous missions. Two airmen named Yossarian and Orr figure that a plea of insanity might do the job. They are disabused of that notion by flight surgeon Doctor Daneeka, who would have to pass on any such claim.

Heller wrote, “There was only one catch, and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and he would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to, but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

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