Chad refers to paper fragments created when holes are made in a paper, card or similar synthetic materials, typically computer punched tape or punched cards. Sometimes chad has been used as a mass noun or as a countable noun, and the plural is commonly either "chad" (as in "a pile of chad") or "chads" (as in "the multiple hanging chads").
Chad were made infamous in the highly contentious 2000 United States presidential election where many of Florida votes used Votomatic punched card ballots. Incompletely-punched holes resulted in partially-punched chad, where one or more corners were still attached, a hanging chad, dimpled chad or pregnant chad - where all corners were still attached, but an indentation appears to have been made. These votes were not counted by the tabulating machines.
Chad 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. Chad are also common in stores, where holes are punched so that merchandise can be hung on pegs or clips. Chad are also the small strips, pieces of paper or shred waste that remain of the documents fed through a paper shredder. Chad 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 used as confetti. This is generally harmless when using thin circular paper chad. The rectangular chad from punched 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 punched tape used in telegraphy. The plural chads is attested from about 1939, along with chadless, meaning without [loose] chad. For example, in US patent 2255794, fourth paragraph: "Prior devices ... have been arranged to cut out the perforations completely ... thereby producing chads or waste material which often present difficult problems of disposal."
The metal tube that collects the chad is called the chad chute, and the chad is (or the chad 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 possibly derived from the Scottish name for river gravel, chad, or the British slang for louse, chat.
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:
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