Another WOTY candidate: hanging chads

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Sun Nov 12 15:42:30 UTC 2000

>heard on npr this morning: a piece in which "pregnant chad"
>(clearly a mass-noun occurrence) was followed not long after
>by "chads" (clearly a count-noun occurrence).
>looks like "chad" is going the way of "e-mail" (or "email", if
>you prefer): many speakers can use it either as a mass noun
>("e-mail has been piling up in my mailbox") or a count noun
>("two e-mails have just arrived").
>arnold (zwicky at

An AP story that quotes a couple of punch-card experts consistently
uses it as a mass noun:

But the rest of the stories on seem to use it as a count noun.
A possible scenario for the change: If originally the term was used
in contexts like "the counter is jammed up with chad" or "we have to
sweep the chad off the floor" then it would make more sense for it to
be a mass noun--no one needs to pay attention to the individual parts
of it.  But since now the focus is on individual ballot papers with
individual pieces of paper stuck to them, they're perceived as more
countable things.

M. Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 3AN    UK
phone:  +44(0)1273-678844
fax:    +44(0)1273-671320

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