by Connor Brandt, sophomore writing coach
Most people have heard of this infuriating conundrum: to get a job, you must have experience, but to get experience, you must get a job. This seems stupid and illogical; how is it reasonable to expect someone to obtain something if the simple act of needing it is enough to justify denying it? This type of logical fallacy is often known as a “Catch-22.” But why is it called a Catch-22? What’s so special about twenty two specifically?
In 1953, Joseph Heller began writing a novel that would be released in 1961. The book starred Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 bomber pilot staged in the Mediterranean during WWII. On each bombing mission, around 5 out of 100 people were killed in action. Naturally, Yossarian and his compatriots often sought ways to get out these dangerous missions as they valued their own lives.
The ultimate escape from flying these missions was to be deemed mentally unfit for duty, or in simpler terms, being insane. To be insane, all one had to do was to willingly throw themselves into dangerous situations, such as flying on a bombing run, since having no regard for one’s safety is insane. However, to be considered insane, one also had to request that their sanity be evaluated. While this may seem like an easy way out for Yossarian, there was one major problem: the act of requesting an evaluation shows rational concern for one’s safety, something only a sane person could do. This entire system of determining sanity and insanity was justifiable under the rule from which the book draws its name—Catch-22.
So, you still may be wondering, “what’s special about 22?” Good question! Answer: nothing! Other numbers were considered but shot down for conflicting with famous releases of books and movies, like 11, 18, and 14. So, they picked 22, because it has the repetition of one number—just like 11—to reflect the repetition within the novel.
While it may not be groundbreaking to learn that a type of logical fallacy places its origin in a book, it’s still interesting to see the effect that things can have on language. So, now you know the origin of the famous Catch-22: a WWII novel about some aviators trying to escape military bureaucracy. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t help me with that summer job.