"Chad", "chadless", "chatts"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Jan 24 09:12:57 UTC 2001

I have found an instance of "chadless" dated 1940. I don't think "chadless"
goes back much farther, since I've reviewed what I think are the patent
documents for the chadless punching process, filed in 1939. Needless to
say, there's no Mr. Chadless involved. The specifications from 1939
apparently don't include the word "chadless", but they do include "chads",
meaning "pieces of waste [from a perforated tape]" (no quotation marks are
employed in the specs.). It is clear that "chadless" = "producing no
chads". The alternative to chadless tape was not called "chad tape" but
IIRC "perforated tape".

This (apparently 1939) is the earliest instance of "chad(s)" which I've
found. But the word was already familiar in telegraphy circles by/before
1939, judging from 1939-1942 documents. I'm still looking. Now the USPTO
Web-site seems to have developed a "bug", so I'm stalled on the patents.
More later.

I had pictured chad(s) as inert material lying on the floor or filling a
waste bin. But apparently under conditions of high-speed punch operation
all kinds of paper debris tended to fly about, and some tended to stick to
things and people by static electricity. I think high-speed high-volume
telegraphy tape punching might date from roughly the 1920's. Now we're
getting close to WW I, not WW II, maybe.

I pointed out en passant that "chat(t)" = "louse" a while back. Evan Morris
forwarded a letter from a correspondent ("Bob Kamman"?) who speculatively
derived "chad" from "chat" = "louse". This correspondent (1) took "chat" as
military slang (wrong, I think), (2) related "chat" = "conversate" to
"chat" = "(de)louse" (wrong, I think), and (3) supported the louse-chad
connection with a reference to punched-card chips being thrown in one's
hair at a party (irrelevant, surely). It is apparently true, however, that
"chat" = "louse" was current among British and allied troops during WW I,
when lice proliferated in the trenches (Partridge mentions this, and
several Web pages give glimpses).

Now one might picture the telegraph-office workers at the end of their work
day, say circa 1930-35, picking the chads off themselves and each other,
and one might consider that some of them might have served in the trenches
in WW I -- where they spent a lot of time picking chats (lice) off their
clothes ....

Can anyone show "chad" = "louse"?

-- Doug Wilson

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