Fwd: "chad" revisited

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Nov 13 22:52:09 UTC 2000

> > Can anyone (dis)confirm this charming story?   The etymology
> > was forwarded to me by a former student of mine and long-time
> > puzzler.
>I've just written a piece about 'chad' for next week's issue of
>World Wide Words. What research I've been able to do suggests
>strongly that Mr Chadless was fictional. There was a chadless
>punch, but the word seems to have been derived from the existing
>However, if anyone has evidence to the contrary, I'd be more
>than interested to hear (before next Saturday, if possible!).

Was there ever anyone named "Chadless" in the world at all? (I wouldn't be
surprised either way.)

MW dates "chad" from 1947. My RH says "1945-50".

Teletype machines use(d) two types of punched tape: chad tape and chadless
tape (really two types of punch I suppose). The teletype hobbyist sites on
the Web refer to "chad" and "chadless" a lot. They never capitalize
"chadless". The references are to old machinery, 1960's and earlier. I find
multiple references to "chad tape" and none to "chad cards" -- suggesting
(not decisively) that the earlier use of the word might have been in
reference to tape rather than cards. The chads from tape are apparently
discs, and I've seen the incompletely separated ones likened to toilet lids.

Apparently "chad" occurs in countable and uncountable versions.

Webster's Third (1961?) gives the best tentative etymology I've seen: from
Scots "chad" = "gravel".

Several Scots dictionaries (including the big one) show this word, "chad" =
gravel, or the small stones in a riverbed.

This seems reasonable to me, and I can't find a better candidate.

Why a Scots word? Maybe it dates from the US-British collaboration during
WW II, when primitive "computers" and similar devices were used in
cryptography, etc. -- the early days of punched cards and tapes, at least
in quantity, I think. (Or were there ticker-tape machines which used
punched tape?)

Is the OED silent?

-- Doug Wilson

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