Posted by ESC on October 07, 2003
In Reply to: Catch 22 posted by David Kline on October 07, 2003
: I know the meaning & origin of the word. What is the significance of the number and why wasn't 20 or 21 used.
From a previous discussion in the archives:
"Catch 22; Most people are familiar with this modern saying and recognise it as implying a "no win situation", one where, whatever happens, there will almost certainly be a bad outcome. Many people will also know that Catch 22 was the title of the 1955 novel by Joseph Heller set on a USAAF WW2 base (in those days it was an Army Air Force). The aircrew are on the edge of breakdown; they must be mad to go on another mission but the fact that they realise that they must be mad means that they must be sane at the same time. They have to continue flying. Truly a "no win situation".
The above is as far as any reference book that I have found has ever gone, but why did Heller call his book Catch 22? I found what I think is the answer in, of all places, a review of a TV programme in a daily paper. The programme was about the daylight missions flown by the USAAF over Germany. Many of the aircraft were shot down; others were damaged but managed to get back to England. A very few were so damaged that, although they could still fly, they couldn't make it back to base. Such aircraft were allowed by US military law to divert to neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland. Once there, the crews were interned but they were out of the war. This near-death scenario of gross but not fatal damage was covered by USAAF general directive number 22. Hence, if you could fall into, or catch, the tiny area of severe but not disastrous damage, all would be well. However the likelihood was that you wouldn't and you'd be either shot down and possibly killed, or back in the war. I think that this is a splendid explanation, somewhat marred by the possibility that Heller is said to have originally planned to call his book "Catch 18"; he changed to 'Catch 22' because Leon Uris's novel 'Mila 18' came out just before Heller's book was published."
I recently bought a book with stories about how book titles are chosen. Tonight I'll take a look and see if "Catch 22" is discussed.