"Wads" = "chads"?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jan 20 14:28:01 UTC 2001

US Patent # 732,279 (1903) (H. L. Davis: "Electrically-controlled
Perforating-machine") deals with the punching of paper for use in automatic
musical instruments -- like player-piano rolls, I guess. In the
specifications, I find

<<a die-plate ..., in which is formed a series of holes or perforations
..., enlarged or reamed out from their bottoms ... to permit the easy
discharge of the punchings or "wads" punched from the music sheet.>>

Clearly the word "wads" is used here exactly as the word "chads" is
employed in a number of much later patents and other documents.

The OED shows under "wad" a definition including "a disk of felt or
cardboard", with a citation from 1881 reading "Wads are punched out of
sheets of various materials ...." This is in reference to wadding for firearms.

How could "wad" = "punched-out flat fragment" be related to "chad" =
"punched-out flat fragment"?

One possibility is that "wad" was conflated with "chaff" (I don't find this
entirely natural/convincing but I await further evidence). Early paper
punches produced troublesome waste which included chad(s) (i.e., disks or
chips) and also finer material (fibers, "paper dust"), and the composite
residue may have needed a name -- perhaps "chad(s)" = "chaff and wads", the
union of the countable and uncountable elements perhaps leading to the
countable/uncountable ambiguity of "chad(s)"?

Then again, perhaps it's just a coincidence ....

Note that from its earliest citations (so far), "chad" has referred to a
punched-out fragment AS RESIDUE -- like "chaff" -- and not to the
punched-out disk simply as a disk. The tape in which the disks are not
fully detached is referred to as "chadless" -- i.e., without residue/debris
-- rather than as "retained-chad", "attached-chad", etc. Although the disk
(later called a "hanging chad") of course was present in early "chadless"
tapes (and in fact caused problems in rolling and storing these tapes!), it
didn't qualify as "chad"! The 1944 citation can be read this way: the chad
is said to be ELIMINATED, not simply retained on the tape.

-- Doug Wilson

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