All about learning English

First and Foremost, it’s a Catch-22


We have discussed the various ways in which numbers can be read out. We also considered which methods are more standard than others. But that’s only a small part of the discussion we could have on expressions about numbers. English after all relies on a wide range of expressions that are based on numbers. In this post, let’s discuss two expressions: one that I do not like, and another that is a big favorite of mine.

First and Foremost

The expression that I do not like is ‘first and foremost.’ This is a common expression used for emphasizing the priority of something. A politician might say, for instance: ‘First and foremost, we need to make enquiries and discover all the facts around this controversy.’ This is certainly a standard English expression. However, words such as ‘foremost’ feel more and more outdated in current English.

Today, it is probably better to just say, ‘let’s first find out..’ Another complaint I have against this expression is that it repeats the sense of ‘first,’ and therefore wastes a word. This is something we tend to do in India quite often I think. Another example of this phenomenon is the expression ‘unless and until’, which is also rather confusing and repetitive.


The expression that I really like is ‘catch-22.’ The phrase comes from the famous novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. In the novel, military rules state that pilots who are insane can be sent away from the war. But to be excused, the pilots must ask for it—and when they do, they are considered sane and must fly more missions in the war.

In short, a catch-22 is a situation where you can only get something as long as you do not want it, or cannot use it. Or a situation where there is a paradox (a contradiction) involved, and the contradiction works as a trap that essentially keeps you from getting what you want.

A common example of a catch-22 situation is something that many of us experience as we start looking for the first job: it seems impossible to get a good job with an exciting work profile without having some work experience, and yet one cannot have the necessary work experience without first getting a job.

Another example would be the situation where people try to take a loan. Loans are sanctioned based on your previous credit history– the loans you have taken and repaid in the past. But for your first loan, you cannot show previous credit record. And yet without that first loan, there is no way to build your credit-worthiness profile.

In real life, there is perhaps no perfect catch-22, and we always seem to find a way out. And yet catch-22 remains an important concept and a useful phrase that helps us describe the tricky situations we often have to deal with.

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