"chad"--a possible origin

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Nov 19 19:16:58 UTC 2000

>(1) Barry's first attestation (aside from OED2) comes from June 1960, and
>the context of all his attestations is automatic data processing. (I do not
>have OED2 handy;  Barry gives 1959 as its first cite of "chad.")

Merriam-Webster gives 1947. Random House says "1945-50".

>(2) We therefore deal with the context of "tech-speak"and the etymology
>must therefore be sought in this context.

Not necessarily. "Chad" was also called "chips", also "confetti" -- these
are not tech-speak, are they?

>(3) ... Where in the world could
>young technically oriented people have turned to for inspiration that would
>result in a word whose origin is not readily transparent?

People in the 1940's [maybe not so young (maybe the youngsters were in the
front lines); maybe not so technically oriented (see below)]? Many places,
some of which we may have forgotten now. The origin from Scots "chad" =
"gravel" offered in Webster's Third (1961) seems reasonable to me. If there
was an early acronym (say mid-1940's), the MW people didn't know about it
around 1960, so I doubt one can find it easily now ... in fact, I doubt
there was one. Note also that none of the quotations re "chad" in the early
1960's seems to give an acronym (I couldn't find an early acronym in my
library browsing either).

I submitted programs on punched cards (punched by myself) as early as the
mid-1960's, and I punched paper for ring binders before that: AFAIK I never
heard the word "chad", and I never felt the need for a name for the little
paper chips or discs. Who dealt with chad in large volume? Who would need a
specific name for it? Programmers? Maybe, maybe not. Keypunch operators and
teletype operators? Probably. Janitors? Certainly. Not only techno-geeks by
any means. Some members of any of these groups may have spoken Scots.

>... _chad._  The piece of material removed when forming a hole or notch in a
> >storage medium such as punched tape or punched cards.  Synonymous with chip.

>(6) So my tentatively advanced, speculative etymology of "chad" is ... an
>acronym of CHip of Automatic Data.

Not entirely impossible. But perhaps "chips" < "CHaff from Information
Processing Systems" is just as good.

I don't favor it, but then I'm prejudiced against acronym etymologies in
general. I will admit that the chronology is consistent with a military
origin, in which case an acronym might be less unbelievable than usual.

-- Doug Wilson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list