We’ve all come across certain frustrating situations where you’re “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” Those of us born after the sixties probably came to know the term “catch-22” long before we were introduced to the book that gave its own name to these classic no-win situations. Here’s how Joseph Heller described the self-contradictory bureaucratic blooper that condemned Yossarian to an endless string of combat missions:
“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 were 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.”
But did you know that this circular puzzle was originally known as Catch-18? Here’s what wikipedia has to say about why it was so hard to land on just the right title:
“The opening chapter of the novel was originally published in New World Writing as “Catch-18” in 1955, but Heller's agent, Candida Donadio, requested that he change the title of the novel, so it would not be confused with another recently published World War II novel, Leon Uris's Mila 18 . The number 18 has special meaning in Judaism (it means Alive in Gematria) and was relevant to early drafts of the novel which had a somewhat greater Jewish emphasis.
“The title Catch-11 was suggested, with the duplicated 1 paralleling the repetition found in a number of character exchanges in the novel, but because of the release of the 1960 movie Ocean's Eleven, this was also rejected. Catch-17 was rejected so as not to be confused with the World War II film Stalag 17, as was Catch-14 , apparently because the publisher did not feel that 14 was a "funny number." Eventually the title came to be Catch-22 , which, like 11, has a duplicated digit, with the 2 also referring to a number of déjà vu-like events common in the novel.”
I think Catch-22 has a nice ring to it, but come on, calling the number 14 unfunny? 14 is a hilarious number: the glottal stop right there in the middle? The only “teen” without an e or an i sound?… Catch-14 would have been comedy gold.