Another WOTY candidate: hanging chads

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Sun Nov 12 19:13:01 UTC 2000

At 03:42 PM 11/12/00 +0000, you wrote:
>>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

This morning on one of the TV roundtables (Sam and Cokie, maybe?), "chads"
(pl.) were explained in detail: one tear, two tears, pregnant ones,
slightly poked ones, etc.  But always as countable, meaning those little
centers that are punched out (we use them in our county too).  I always
wondered what to call the little white dots that spill out all over the
floor from hole punchers--are they chads too?  Which might explain the
conversion to mass noun:  Who spilled all this chad?

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

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