"chad"--a possible origin

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Nov 20 10:00:18 UTC 2000

>... the word 'chat' for the gravel that is used in resurfacing country
>roads in that area.  The chat comes from steel mills in northeast Texas
>that process locally mined iron ore. ... So, in some areas ... 'chat' as
>gravel is well known and the Scottish term not known at all.

This is what Hendrickson referred to, more or less: mining refuse used on
roads. I think in etymological speculation, an exact match generally should
be preferred: score 1 for "chad" = "gravel". But an English word should be
preferred over a Scots word: score 1 for "chat". I tend to trust MW more
than I do Hendrickson (who dates the word "chad" to the late 1960's!): 1
for "chad". But after all, I'm not sure that these two words for gravel are
really distinct!

DARE gives "chat" = "gravelly tailings from mines", and some of the
quotations indicate that "chat" is a corruption of "chert" -- but I'm not
sure this is substantiated, and "chert" itself is of mysterious origin.

The "English Dialect Dictionary" (Joseph Wright, ed.; Oxford, 1961) shows
"chad" = "gravel"/"riverbed stones" (Scotland, East Anglia) and also  =
"chaff" (in food) (Norfolk, East Anglia).

The EDD also gives "chat" = (1) "catkin" [hazel, maple], (2) "key" [ash,
sycamore], (3) "fir-cone", (5) "chip of wood", (7) "small inferior potato",
(8) "small piece of coal", (9) "piece of stone blended with lead ore" [like
the "chat" in DARE], etc. -- but notes that this word "chat" also occurs as
"chad" (Yorkshire, Derbyshire)!

All of these refer to small objects occurring in heaps ... just like
punch-card or punch-tape chad(s).

Several of the above would give credible origins for "chad" = "punched
paper chip(s)".

["Chat" refers to a bunch of other things, including lice, birds (DARE
gives "chat" and "chad" as bird names), kittens, etc., etc., and -- of
course -- like about 100,000 other words -- the female sex organ (cf.
French "chat").]

Note that "chad" is a very common word, perhaps virtually a recognition
signal, among teletype hobbyists as evidenced in -- e.g. -- the "Greenkeys"
archive at a ham radio site on the Web, with maybe 200 instances of "chad":
here's one page which includes the imaginary (?) fountain statue of a "nude
maiden pouring chads", no doubt a symbol of the brotherhood:


There are also light or jocular references to inhaling chad by accident,
smoking chad like marijuana, using chad as confetti, etc. The chad here is
from punched tape.

Here is a case where someone opines that "chad" may come from the UK (not
convincing/conclusive at all, but I haven't seen any contrary geographic


But as we see from the EDD, the exact provenance of the word cannot be
established simply by assumption of British origin anyway.

-- Doug Wilson

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