Meet Mr. Chadless 

Rosie Right

Rosie is sick of the constant yammer of politics on TV and of the words that the commentators use over and over. We are, it is true, in a difficult situation, but somehow it doesn't help to talk about it all the time. Still, a reader has asked about the word chad. Where did it come from? She found the best answer to this on the Michael Quinion Web site World Wide Words www.worldwidewords.org. Quinion did so well that Rosie will turn over the word's explication to him. Mr. Quinion says: "It was reported that the automatic vote-counting machines sometimes got confused because voters didn't punch the holes in the voting papers right through and the dangling 'chad' messed up the sensors. …We've also had a lot of arcane technology appear, including 'swing-door chad,' 'tri-chad,' 'dimpled chad' and even 'pregnant chad.' "Most people associated with computing thought 'chad' had gone out with punch-card tabulating machines well BME (Before the Microsoft Era). Every time you created a new card, little punched-out bits of card would fall into a hopper below the machine…This was the chad. …The Jargon File says it has also been known as 'chaff,' 'computer confetti,' and 'keypunch droppings.' "According to the main reference works, nobody has the slightest idea where the word 'chad' came from, though there's a good chance that it pre-dates the computer. Punched tabulator cards have been around since the machines Herman Hollerith invented to analyze the 1890 US census. However, such information as we have dates the word to the period immediately after the Second World War. … …. "Though some lexicographers would point to it being a variant form of 'chaff,' there is another possibility. The story goes that a genius of the mechanical world was fed up with all these bits of confetti lying about on the floors of computer rooms and invented a machine that did away with them. Instead of punching a hole right through, it cut a notch and folded the flap back. The inventor, it is said, was a Mr. Chadless, and his machine was called the Chadless keypunch. The logic was inescapable: if the Chadless punch didn't make computer confetti, then the stuff it didn't make must be chad. "There's one big problem with this: I've not been able to turn up any evidence that Mr. Chadless ever existed…." So, that's what we know about Mr. Chadless' alleged invention, the chad. Let's hope that the day of its constant repetition will soon be over. Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave., Richmond, Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail repps@styleweekly.com


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