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10 Words Invented by Authors

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These authors are all geniuses just based on their works alone. When you consider they invented words within those novels that are now in our day-to-day vernacular"¦ well, it's enough to make a humble blogger feel a little inadequate.

1. "Bump" first appeared in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare coined a ridiculous number of words, actually, although some historians and linguists think certain words just get attributed to Shakespeare even if he didn't really invent them.

2. "Runcible spoon" was created for The Owl and the Pussycat by author Edward Lear. He had no particular meaning for the word runcible "“ Lear also referred to "a runcible hat," a "runcible cat," a "runcible goose" and a "runcible wall." But since it has entered somewhat common vernacular, "runcible spoon" sometimes refers to a grapefruit spoon, a spork, or a sort of flattened ladle (which is what it looks like in the illustration that accompanies the poem).

3. The same goes for the vorpal sword from Alice in Wonderland. Actually, Lewis Carroll is famous for his invented words. He doesn't quite have as many under his belt as Mr. Shakespeare (if you can believe all of those), but other words that weren't in our dictionaries until they were pulled out of his head include chortle, galumph and burble.

4. According to at least one source, Jane Austen invented the phrase "dinner party."

5. If you have a Tween in your life, you can thank J.R.R. Tolkien that you have something to define them with. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien claimed a Tween was a Hobbit between the ages of 20 and 33 (33 being when Hobbits come of age). There's some debate as to whether the word existed prior to this reference or not, however "“ the Oxford English Dictionary does not give him credit.

6. It's long been believed the name "Wendy" didn't exist until J.M. Barrie pulled it out of thin air for Peter Pan, however, it was definitely used as a nickname for "Gwendolyn" prior to Barrie's tale about the boy who wouldn't grow up. It's safe to say that the name started to become quite popular and common post-Peter.


7. It may be hard to believe, but the word "quark" first appeared in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Scientist Murray Gell-Mann had been thinking about calling the unit "kwork," but when he found the invented word in the Joyce classic, he knew he had discovered the spelling he wanted to use. Here's what he had to say about it:

In 1963, when I assigned the name "quark" to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been "˜kwork'. Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word "quark" in the phrase "Three quarks for Muster Mark". Since "˜quark' (meaning, for one thing, the cry of the gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with "˜Mark', as well as "˜bark' and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as "˜kwork'. But the book represents the dream of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the "portmanteau" words in "˜Through the Looking-Glass'. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry "˜Three quarks for Muster Mark' might be 'Three quarts for Mister Mark', in which case the pronunciation "˜kwork' would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature.

8. "Nerd" may be a common insult (or term of endearment, depending on your tone, I suppose) these days, but before Dr. Seuss published it in 1950's If I Ran the Zoo, people had to make do with "square" and "drip" instead. At least, they did according to Newsweek, which ran an article in 1951 defining the new slang term.

9. I bet if you think about "nymphet" long enough, you can come up with the book it came from. I'll give you a second"¦ lalala. OK, time's up. It's Nabokov's Lolita of course. Here's where it first appears in the book: "Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "˜nymphets.'

10. I wouldn't be writing this if cyberspace didn't exist, so I guess in a roundabout way, I have sci-fi writer William Gibson to thank. I mean, sort of. He didn't invent cyberspace itself, obviously, just the word for it. It first appeared in his novel Neuromancer in 1984.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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