what does it mean when someone says something is a catch 22; does this refer to the book?
Whenever you wonder about a phrase's or a word's meaning, first you should try looking it up at www.onelook.com. I did this for "catch 22" and here are the results:
Then click on any of the different dictionaries' results at the left.
When someone says something is a "catch-22," it means that they are referring to a situation where there is a contradictory or paradoxical set of rules or circumstances that makes it impossible to satisfy both conditions or escape the situation.
The term "catch-22" actually comes from a famous novel titled "Catch-22" written by Joseph Heller. In the book, there is a military regulation called "Catch-22" which states that if a soldier wants to be declared insane and avoid dangerous combat missions, they need to request it. However, the catch is that any soldier who requests to be declared insane is assumed to be sane because they have the concern for their own safety, and consequently cannot avoid combat missions.
While the term originated from this book, it has since become a commonly used phrase to describe any situation that presents a double bind or a no-win scenario. So, when someone says something is a "catch-22," it is generally not referring to the book specifically but rather to the concept of a contradictory situation.