"chad" newspaper article

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Fri Nov 17 22:47:17 UTC 2000

 A few days ago a reporter tried to contact me to find out the etymology of
"chad."  We missed connections, although I could not have helped him much
anyway.  He then kindly sent me an e-mail containing his article, which I
now share with  ADS-L.

-----Gerald Cohen
>      Published Thursday, Nov. 16, 2000, in
>                    the San Jose Mercury News
>                    Finding the
>                    origin of `chad'
>                    is as difficult
>                    as naming a
>                    winner
>                    BY MIKE ANTONUCCI
>                    Mercury News
>                    Chad?
>                    Well, there's Chad Everett, the love-beaded Dr. Joe
>                    Gannon on the CBS hit ``Medical Center'' 30 years ago.
>                    There's also Chad Stuart of Chad & Jeremy, the English
>                    singers from the mid-1960s British Invasion.
>                    Both Chads are people -- and as far as we know,
>                    unperforated.
>                    Then there's ballot chad. You know: the indented,
>                    corner-dangling or completely punched-out bits of
>                    paper that are part of the low-tech argument over
>                    whether George W. Bush or Al Gore is winning the
>                    Florida version of presidential bingo.
>                    But where did that specific word come from?
>                    ``Wouldn't we all like to know?'' said Audrey Fischer, a
>                    public affairs specialist for the Library of Congress.
>                    There are theories, informed guesses and trails of
>                    informational bread crumbs that are no neater than all
>                    this confetti-like chad.
>                    If someone has the indisputable answer, would that
>                    person please share it soon?
>                    The bulk of the speculation about the derivation of
>                    ``chad'' involves a piece of equipment known as the
>                    Chadless keypunch.
>                    According to an online dictionary of computing terms
>                    (http://burks.bton.ac.uk/burks/foldoc/index.htm), the
>                    equipment cut U-shapes in punch cards, rather than
>                    punching out circular or rectangular bits. So, ``it was
>                    clear that if the Chadless keypunch didn't make them,
>                    the stuff that other keypunches made'' would, by a sort
>                    of backward designation, be ``chad.''
>                    That keypunch was named after its inventor, the site
>                    notes, although there's no mention of that individual's
>                    full name.
>                    Some dictionaries and other reference sources trace the
>                    word ``chad'' to the late 1940s or strongly associate it
>                    with computing and data processing. Others relate the
>                    word to the Teletypesetter -- a keyboard apparatus that
>                    produced perforated tapes.
>                    There are other suggested origins as well.
>                    The 1993 version of Webster's Third New International
>                    Dictionary suggested that chad is Scottish for gravel.
>                    Another possible root word is chaff, whose definitions
>                    include ``seed coverings and other debris'' and
>                    ``anything worthless.''
>                    And in the category of theories for which there is no
>                    evidence: Chad is an acronym for Card Hole Aggregate
>                    Debris -- though that's possibly just a ``backronym''
>                    devised after chad was in use.
>                    One Web site definition
>                    (www.webopedia.com/Programming/chad.html)
>                    incorporates the idea that the word acquired
>                    ``mainstream'' status in 1993 when used in directions
>                    a card-based voting machine in California.
>                    But Tony Miller, who became chief legal counsel for the
>                    California secretary of state in 1976 and later served
>                    acting secretary, said the word was well-known much
>                    earlier.
>                    ``I remember chad being used back in the late 1970s,
>                    and it was a common term at that point,'' said Miller.
>                    Some Web sites imply that the word is venerable
>                    enough to be a museum term.
>                    For example, the ``computer museum'' page on the Web
>                    site for the University of Virginia's department of
>                    computer science
>                    (www.cs.virginia.edu/brochure/museum.html)
>                    illustrates a section on keypunch cards with photos of
>                    an old IBM punch spindle and a jar full of chad.
>                    Like the election, it's not what you'd call pretty.
>                    Contact Mike Antonucci at
>                    mantonucci at sjmercury.com or (408) 920-5690.

gcohen at umr.edu

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