"chad" apparently did not fly about

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Jan 25 03:51:49 UTC 2001

    Douglas Wilson's e-mail today (Jan. 24) speculates that the chad
might have flown all over and may therefore be likened to lice
("chats").  Hence (so the theory) "chad" may derive from this "chats"
or better yet from "chads" (same meaning), assuming that this latter
form actually existed.

    However, on Jan. 14 I received a reply from Chris Jensen, who had
earlier told me of his familiarity with the term "chad" from 1952.
His Jan. 14 e-mail responded to a general question I had asked him
about whether chad had ever been a nuisance. His reply is now
relevant to Douglas Wilson's speculation about "chad" from "chat"
(=louse). Evidently this speculation is unlikely to pan out, because
the chad did not fly around all over but was neatly caught in a

    But even if Mr. Wilson's "chat" (louse) speculation turns out to
be incorrect, his discovery of the earliest attestation thus far
(1940) is a source of congratulation and celebration. We of course
all await the opportunity to learn the details.

    Meanwhile, here is Mr. Jenson's e-mail to me, followed by Douglas Wilson's:

>Subject: Re: Question
>Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2001
>Dear Mr. Cohen,
>In your message about the 1944 journal article the reference to the fact
>that chadless machines also printed on the surface of the tape resurrected
>that fact in my memory. I had forgotten.
>In my experience the real chad wasn't a nuisance. Mechanically, the machines
>that made chadless tape and the machines that made totally perforated tape
>and thus produced chad differed only in organization.  So the two types of
>machines differed in that the chadless had a printer, but the 'chad'
>machines had a chad-catcher (smaller than, but equivalent to the Chip Box of
>the punched card equipment.)  I don't recall that the chad ever wandered far
>from the chad-catcher. Chadless machines cost more, and presented more
>maintenance (ink or ribbon) and repair costs.
>Perhaps chad was a nuisance in the machines the British used, either because
>of the machines' design, or because of the way the telegraphers managed the
>chad.  It also could have been a problem with the US forces, but not in my
>experience. Now that I think of it, we used chad machines in training, which
>forced us to become proficient in interpreting the code, and we used a few
>chad machines where that was what the unit had, but in the larger message
>centers we used chadless tape because of the printing and the ease with
>which two pieces of tape could be spliced.
>For several months I was detached from my unit (an Infantry division's
>signal company) and attached to a paratroop regiment. That unit had a
>"portable" receiver-transmitter with an integrated paper-tape reperforator.
>That was a chad machine, a lighter weight component than a chadless machine.
>When the operator punched a tape the machine's page printer showed what was
>on the tape, so printing on the tape was unnecessary.
>I do not remember that the character drawn on walls all over the world was
>known as Chad. Hmm. I think of him as Kilroy. There's something new to learn
>every day.
>Chris Jensen


>X-Sender: douglas/nb.net at
>Date:         Wed, 24 Jan 2001 04:12:57 -0500
>Reply-To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>From: "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
>Subject:      "Chad", "chadless", "chatts"
>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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