Catch-22 contains the following quote:

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 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.

If there was only one catch, why is it "Catch-22"? I had always thought that "Catch-22" was "the catch after Catch 21 and the catch before Catch 23". Or was it that that particular policy (the one on when you could be grounded) only had one catch and that the other catches applied to other policies? Or that Catch-22 was the "summation" of all the other catches in some sense (because Catch-22 means that they have the right to do anything you don't have the power to stop them from doing)?

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    would it make things worse to tell you that for a while, Heller called the book Catch-18? :) Aug 22, 2017 at 17:32
  • @LaurenIpsum The thought occurred to me :) Aug 22, 2017 at 17:51
  • Out of curiosity, why the downvote on this? Aug 22, 2017 at 20:35
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    Ah, now I see your "Or was it that that particular policy ..." sentence. Maybe the downvoter didn't, or judged the question from the title and the quote. shrug It's one downvote - not worth worrying about unless there are more :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 22, 2017 at 20:45
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    @Randal'Thor Yep, I'm not all that worried about it (although I would rather like to get to 2K since it gives you the same privileges that 10K gives you on Stack Overflow) - I was just curious. Aug 22, 2017 at 20:49

1 Answer 1


"There is only one catch" refers to that particular situation. The previous lines describe a character Orr, who should be grounded (prevented from flying). Which he's entitled to be, on the grounds that it would be crazy to continue flying. All he has to do is ask... but that would imply that he was sane, and thus sane enough to fly. "Catch-22" is the name of that particular catch, the self-defeating one.

There are presumably others: the book presents the Army as a complicated, rule-bound, infuriating place, full of many catches. But this one's a doozy.

The numbering of "catches" hints at a bureaucracy. It implies that there are more of them out there, though we're never introduced to them. They may have numbers like 21 and 23... or not. The next one could well be 43,384. (Take a look at military unit numbers and see if you can find a pattern.) They could be lettered, or named, or even just completely undesignated. But they're certainly out there. Probably.

You almost certainly can't get a list of them... but the number hints that maybe you could, if you just knew how. If you knew how, of course, you wouldn't need the list.

  • So, there are likely other catches (but maybe not), but Catch-22 was the relevant one in that situation? Aug 22, 2017 at 20:42
  • That's correct. In addition, the expression "It's the best there is" implies that there area others. Aug 22, 2017 at 21:37
  • That's true. I'm wondering if that phrase also implies that some of them are subsumed under Catch-22 (because that's the one that gives them the right to do whatever they want as long as no one's around to stop them). Aug 22, 2017 at 21:39
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    I don't think it's intended to be as malicious as that. It's not deliberate. It's merely officious and rule-bound... and in some ways that's even worse. It would be easier if you could blame somebody for being evil. Instead, the rules are just poorly thought out and contradictory. They're probably even intended to help... but they get people killed. And that's the dark humor of it. Aug 22, 2017 at 21:48

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