What’s the Catch – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Has someone just described a situation or scenario to you, and you feel like there’s something else they are leaving out? The question ‘what’s the catch?’ is one of the most common ways that the question can be asked. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The saying ‘what’s the catch?’ is used as a question that asks the speaker whether there is an additional, unforeseen or unmentioned discussion point.

When it is used as a question, the term ‘what’s the catch?’ is most often used in response to what someone else has said.

The term is used to imply or ask whether there is any other thing to the situation that should have been mentioned by the original speaker, but that was not.

The saying often implies that there is something that has not been said, which is going to be disadvantageous to someone.

A “catch” implies that there are terms and conditions, or unforeseen and unmentioned factors that affect what was said.

The expression is not always just phrased as a question, but someone can also phrase it as a statement to say, “there is a catch”.

When it is used as a statement, the expression implies that the speaker will continue to then describe the terms of what they had just said before.

Example Usage

“When he said we were going to go on an all-expenses-paid vacation to the Seychelles, I had to stop him and ask: what’s the catch?”

“It’s one thing to save up all your money for a vacation to Vegas, but you’ve got to remember that it’s not easy to win at the roulette tables. There’s always a catch, and the dealer always wins when you’ll go home broke.”

“You might think that you’ve pulled the wool over their eyes, but you should know that there’s always a catch. You can’t beat the house.”

“There’s always something they don’t tell you when you play those weird carnival games that let you win a stuffed bear or animated horse. There’s always a catch.”

Origin

The origin and first use of the term ‘what’s the catch?’ is difficult to track, and its exact origins are disputed by most official language resources.

At best, it is possible to trace the origins of the word “catch” on its own with the assumption that the expression must have came to use after the word entered the English language. According to online dictionaries, the term ‘catch’ first came into use after the 14th century, and then spread thanks to the introduction of the printing press and popular media.

A possible origin for the saying ‘what’s the catch?’ is traced back to the use of ‘catch’ to mean ‘hook’, as in asking someone how to close something with said mechanism.

The expression ‘what’s the catch?’ was first added to the website Urban Dictionary in 2007 even though the term was in clear, popular use long before this.

Phrases Similar to What’s the Catch

  • What gives?

Phrases Opposite to What’s the Catch

  • No strings attached

What is the Correct Saying?

  • What’s the catch?

Ways People May Say What’s the Catch Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone might misuse or misunderstand the term ‘what’s the catch?’ if they are not familiar with it.

The term ‘what’s the catch?’ is usually said in response to a statement, and asks if there are any hidden clauses or unspoken elements to the statement.

The term does not literally imply a “catch”, but means to say that something disadvantageous is being hidden from the statement that was said.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase What’s the Catch

The correct way to use the term ‘what’s the catch?’ is to use it to imply that there is hidden information to a statement.

The term can alternatively be used as a statement that suggests an unseen or disadvantageous element, and usually then proceeds to describe it.

 

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