Chad refers to paper fragments created when holes are made in a paper, card or similar synthetic materials, typically computer punched tape or punch cards. Sometimes "chad" has been used as a mass noun (see below). Sometimes "chad" has been used as a countable noun, in which case it usually has had a regular plural "chads". Recently, it sometimes has been asserted that the 'correct' plural is "chad", probably based on a misunderstanding of the mass use.
Chads were made infamous in the highly contentious 2000 presidential election in the United States, where a majority in the U.S. Electoral College was determined in Florida by the counting of punch card ballots. Voters leaving incompletely-punched holes resulted in partially-punched chads, where one or more corners were still attached, or dimpled chads (also known as pregnant chads) where all corners were still attached, but an indentation appeared to have been made.
Chads are more commonly seen in mundane, everyday settings. When a hole punch (of the functional or decorative type) is used, it removes a small amount of paper - a chad. Chads are also common in stores, where holes are punched so that merchandise can be hung on pegs or clip strips.
Chads are also the small strips, pieces of paper or shred waste that remain of the documents fed through a paper shredder.
Likewise, chads can also be the result of punching holes in any sort of thin material, such as cloth, plastic, or even sheet metal.
The term "chad" is sometimes used as a mass noun, similar to "sand": "a pile of chad" means "a pile of paper debris", and the individual paper piece might be called either "a piece of chad" or "a chad".
CHAD is sometimes suggested as a humorous backronym for "Card Hole Aggregate Debris".
Chad is sometimes used as confetti. This is generally harmless when using thin circular paper chad. The rectangular chad from punch cards is unsuitable due to the sharp corners and the toughness of the card stock risking eye injury.
The origin of the term chad is uncertain. Patent documents from the 1930s and 1940s show the word "chad", often in reference to telegraphy tape. The plural "chads" is attested from about 1940, along with "chadless", meaning "without [loose] chads". The metal tube that collects the chad (or the chads) is called the "chad chute", and the chad is (or the chads are) collected in a "chad box" ("chad box" is attested from about 1930). The term "chad" predates the "chadless" punch, which makes a U-shaped hole rather than punching it out entirely. "Chad" is likely derived from the Scottish
name for river gravel, chad, or the British
slang for louse, chat. An old (untrue) joke says that Saint Chad
is the patron saint
of disputed elections.
When a chad is not fully detached from the ballot it is described by various terms corresponding to the level of indentation. The following terms generally apply when describing a four-cornered chad:
- Hanging chads are attached to the ballot at only one corner.
- Swinging chads are attached to the ballot at two corners.
- Tri-chads are attached to the ballot at three corners.
- Pregnant or dimpled chads are attached to the ballot at all four corners, but bear an indentation indicating the voter may have intended to mark the ballot. (Sometimes pregnant is used to indicate a greater mark than dimpled.)
Chad in popular culture
- The 2006 film Bobby makes light of the term chad by making it a backronym of Card Hole Aggregate Debris.
- In the TV show How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby dresses up as a "hanging chad" every year for Halloween.
- In the TV show The Simpsons, the episode entitled The Lastest Gun in the West, the following exchange occurs (ironic because Krusty did not want his show to seem dated):
- Woman: Here's your hanging chad sketch, Krusty!
- Krusty: Ooh, you worked in Judge Ito!
- In the TV show Entourage, Jeremy Piven's character, Ari Gold mentions a hanging chad when the box office numbers get affected due to the blackouts.
- The made-for-TV movie Recount describes the problems revolving around the chad of the various marginal Florida ballots in the 2000 presidential election.