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10 Historical Euphemisms for Infidelity

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Here are 10 historical slang terms and euphemisms for infidelity that you probably won’t see in headlines today.

1. Carrying tackle: Used primarily in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a man having an indiscreet affair was said to be carrying tackle. Tackle was also used to describe flashy or expensive clothing.

2. Groping for trout in a peculiar river: A Shakespearean joke used in Measure for Measure, where groping describes a method of fishing by feeling for them in the water with the hands; peculiar was already in use to describe a mistress, much in the same way a cat or an owl might be a witch’s peculiar.

3. Pour treasure into foreign laps: Another from Shakespeare, this time from Othello, wherein the character Emilia attributes adultery by wives to the misbehavior of their husbands: [They] “slack their duties, and pour our treasures into foreign laps.”

4. Left-handed honeymoon: In use as early as the 1920s or 30s, the saying in full is “He/She is on a left-handed honeymoon with someone else’s wife/husband.”

5. To cut/take a slice: In modern parlance, the adage goes, “It’s safe to take a slice because a cut loaf won’t miss one,” but the idea of women as neatly apportioned loaves of bread is at least 400 years old: a notable early appearance is found in The Tinker of Turvey, a collection of Canterbury tales dating from 1590.

6. Wife in watercolors: This Regency era phrase is less about describing the beauty of the woman you married as a work of art than it is about the easy solubility of water-based paint. A “wife in watercolors” was a mistress, because unlike an actual marriage, the relationship was easily dissolved. Likewise, “painting a wife in watercolor” was a polite euphemism for a man having a discreet affair.

7. Off the rez: Originally, “off the rez” or “off the reservation” was cowboy slang for a person out of his or her element or in unfamiliar territory. Later, the term was used to describe a person who had gone insane or was in extremely familiar territory with a person to whom he or she was not married.

8. War on two fronts: If love is a battlefield, adultery can only complicate (extra)marital strategy. The phrase has long been in use for actual military action, but entered American slang euphemistically after World War II and was bandied about a bit during the Lewinsky scandal.

9. Hiking the Appalachian trail: We can thank former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford for turning a legitimate test of endurance into slang for sneaking away to meet a mistress. When Sanford disappeared in 2009 for nearly a week, no one (including his wife) had any idea where he’d gone. His spokesperson reported that he wasn’t missing, only hiking the Appalachian Trail. But when Sanford reappeared, he admitted he had gone to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he was having an affair.

10. Yarding on: Beat slang gave the lexicon "backdoor" and "backyard" men and women in the 1950s (though the terms were probably around for a few decades before they adopted them), and naturally a verb form followed, as in “The scandal broke when emails revealed that General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell were yarding on their spouses with each other.”

Sources: 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811/2003; A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sexual Language, Gordon Williams, 1997/2006; Westopedia: Language and Lore of Real America, Win Blevins, 2012; Dictionary of American Slang 4e, Barbara Ann Kipfer and Robert L. Chapman, 2010; The American Slang Dictionary, Annotated. James Maitland, 1891/2007; Straight From the Fridge, Dad. Max Decharne, 2000; Merriam-Webster’s Book of Word Histories, 1991; The Best Guide to Euphemism. Nigel Rees, 2006; Urban Dictionary: Freshest Street Slang Defined. Aaron Peckham, 2012.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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