Chad etymology again

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Dec 2 20:19:05 UTC 2000

I did a little more browsing. I found a big fat encyclopedia of computer
technology (1983) which used the word "chad" ONLY with reference to punched
tape (and not to cards). Apparently IBM has always used "chips", and not

It occurred to me that probably the most obvious connection of "chad" has
been ignored consistently by the amateur (and professional?) etymologists.
In what context did we encounter the word "chad" most frequently a few
decades ago? As a male first name or nickname, right? And of those men
called Chad a few decades ago, how many were actually named Chad? Some, but
a minority, I believe. I think usually "Chad" was a nickname for Charles.

The telegraph was more or less invented by Charles Wheatstone, and he
introduced punched paper tape in telegraphy. The tape was routinely
referred to as Wheatstone tape by 1890, and there are references on the Web
now. Later tapes had different formats, and I don't know whether later
tapes were called "Wheatstone". It doesn't seem impossible that "Chad tape"
could have originated in telegraphers' jargon based on the inventor's first

[There were about 25 million telegraph messages in the UK in 1880,
apparently ... plenty of chad already, I guess.]

[How do you pronounce "Wheatstone" anyway? Apparently it was pronounced
something like /wist at n/, although modern dictionaries show /(h)witstoun/
(or "British" /(h)witst at n/).]

[Any modern introductory electrical circuits course will include the
"Wheatstone bridge", I think. Incidentally, this was not invented by
Wheatstone, although apparently he did invent the concertina!]

Perhaps "(Charles) Wheatstone tape" > "Chad tape" > "chad(s)". Perhaps a
distorted recollection of this etymology gave rise to the ridiculous "Mr.
Chadless" story.

I was unable to find a text wherein Charles Wheatstone was called "Chad" (I
did find him called "Charley" in his youth). He worked with his Uncle
Charles in his youth, and he fathered a son also named Charles. I think in
a family with several men named Charles, there might be an increased
tendency for one to be called Chuck, or Chaz, or Chad, or something, to
distinguish him from the others. But the nickname might have been
introduced much later, perhaps (e.g.) as a joke or toast among student
telegraphers several decades after Sir Charles died in 1875.

I have found a few cases of "Chad" as a nickname for "Charles" ca. 1900,
but I don't know whether this nickname has become more or less prevalent
since then.

Just speculation, but (IMHO) worthy of consideration.

-- Doug Wilson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list