Are these words synonyms?

zugzwang — a situation where one player is put at a disadvantage because he has to make a move when he would prefer to pass and make no move

catch-22 — a logical paradox arising from a situation in which an individual needs something that can only be acquired by not being in that very situation

catch-33 — the fifth full-length studio album by Swedish metal band Meshuggah

5 Answers 5


No. Zugzwang is a chess term (as I suspect you may already know) meaning a state in the game when a player can't make a move without ruining his position: no alternative is acceptable.

You know what Catch-22 means, as you demonstrate in your previous question. And you asked about Catch-33 there as well. Maybe you should wait until you are satisfied with an answer there and then compare those ideas to the chess term.

  • I am already satisfied by the answers there. Really, I always used the word zugzwang though I found that Americans use flavors of catch-??. This is metaphor and in life making no move is also a move leading to worsening of situation. Mar 5, 2011 at 18:07
  • @vgv8: In that case maybe you should accept one so people will have a better idea what you were actually asking.
    – Robusto
    Mar 5, 2011 at 18:14
  • "Catch-22" is the title of a book by Joseph Heller. It's the origin of the term. "Catch-33" would have to be a neologism.
    – The Raven
    Mar 5, 2011 at 18:45
  • @The Raven: Yes, of course. See the OP's other question regarding Catch-22. The book gave meaning to the term, but the term now has a meaning independent of the book.
    – Robusto
    Mar 5, 2011 at 18:54
  • seems I've goofed in my writing. I understood explanations but I'm in doubt. I have never used 22 but always used 33 (I even cannot recall why) though with quite different meaning and connotation associated while internet search results hint for 4th and 5th meanings Mar 6, 2011 at 5:27

catch-22 is not a synonymous to zugzwang. The first one means a dilemma, or a situation from which there is no escape. Zugzwang, while it also pertains to difficult situations, is about being in a tight spot because of a specific rule of chess: you have to make a move at your turn.

PS: I don't know about catch-33, but I am sure to be enlightened by the answers to your other question dealing with it.


Zugzwang, although it is usually defined otherwise, means that you are already losing and it will become obvious after your next move.

Catch-22 is about the paradoxes of military life, in particular the impossibility of benefiting from a provision to protect the insane described in the book, and is used for other cases in life where the preconditions for something make it impossible to obtain.

Catch-33 is simply a play on Catch-22 and means whatever its user wants it to mean; in Meshuggah's case it allowed them to nod towards Heller's book in their album title without attempting to cover it.

  • 1
    This is not what zugzwang means, either in chess or metaphorically. In chess, it means a position where the player who has the move loses, and where this would not be the case if his opponent moved next. In other words, the fact that he has to move makes him lose. Mar 6, 2011 at 18:43
  • @Peter Shor: as I said, it is formally defined otherwise. But with good chess players, one is in zugzwang because the other has planned to get to a winning (or in some cases drawing) position and has realised the consequences of the particular position earlier.
    – Henry
    Mar 6, 2011 at 20:13
  • point taken. However, you completely lose the metaphorical meaning if you use this definition. Mar 7, 2011 at 16:51

While zugzwang is predominantly a chess term, it is also occasionally used metaphorically for real-life situations where whoever makes the next move is left at a disadvantage. This doesn't mean quite the same thing as a Catch-22, although it's similar.


Yes! Well, sort of. Zugzwang is reasonably synonymous with Catch-22: Both refer to having a dilemma that will not improve, no matter which choice you make. The only difference is that zugzwang implies that you will be in a weaker position after you make a choice. Whereas Catch-22 just implies that whatever you try to change, it will not improve your situation (i.e. it will not necessarily make it worse).

Catch-33 doesn't mean anything. It's just the name of an album.

  • Sorta like the difference between the first and second laws of thermodynamics?
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 2, 2011 at 13:40

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