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Beth Anne Macaluso

How 13 Dog Breeds Got Their Names

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Beth Anne Macaluso

Every dog owner knows why they gave their dog its name, but how well do you know the story behind their breed names? Let's take a look at where a handful of common breeds found their monikers.

1. Jack Russell Terrier

Yep, Jack Russell was a real guy. John Russell was born in Dartmouth, England in 1795, and over the years he became quite a hunting enthusiast. While he was studying to become a clergyman at Oxford, he met a milkman who had a white terrier bitch named Trump who seemed to be the perfect dog for fox hunting. After convincing the milkman to sell him the dog, Russell began breeding Trump to develop a line of terriers with the stamina to hunt foxes all day and the courage to go after game that had slipped into holes.

Russell actually has two dogs named after him. We're all familiar with the Jack Russell terrier, but the Parson Russell terrier, a similar breed with longer legs, also takes its name from Russell and is recognized as a separate breed.

2. Lhasa Apso

The little dog's name sounds funny, but its origins are pretty straightforward. The Lhasa Apso was originally bred as a watchdog for Tibetan palaces and monasteries; it was hard for an intruder to sneak in past the watchful, yipping pooches. The "Lhasa" in the name comes from the city of Lhasa, Tibet's longtime capital. Apso is a Tibetan word meaning "bearded," so the breed's name signifies that it's a longhaired dog that originated in Tibet.

3. Basset Hound

The lovable big-eared hounds don't get their name from a person named Basset. Rather, "Basset" comes from the French word bas for "low" and refers to the dogs' low-slung statures.

4. Cairn Terrier

These feisty little terriers originated in the Scottish Highlands, where they were renowned for their abilities as hunters of rats and other small prey like rabbits. The dogs were particularly adept at hunting in the cairns, manmade piles of stones that dot the region as navigational markers. Thus, the breed became known as the Cairn terrier.

5. Dalmatian

The spotted breed takes its name from Dalmatia, an Adriatic region that lies mostly within modern-day Croatia. Dalmatians have long been used as sentinels and guard dogs in the region, but it's not entirely clear that they originated there. Paintings and writings show Dalmatian-like dogs in various regions of Europe as far back as the 14th century, and the dogs have been used in Dalmatia since at least the 18th century. Since the dog was most commonly associated with the region, it became widely known as the Dalmatian.

6. Labrador Retriever

You guessed it: labs originated in the region of Canada that's now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Oddly, they actually came from Newfoundland, though. Fishermen perfected a breed they called the St. John's water dog, which were prodigious swimmers who would hit the water and haul fishing nets back to shore. In the early 19th century the Earl of Malmesbury began bringing these hard-working dogs to his English estate and training them to retrieve the ducks he hunted. The Earl referred to his pack of pooches as his "Labrador dogs" in a confused reference to their home region, and the name stuck as their popularity grew.

7. Poodle

The poodle may be thought of as a fancy, snooty dog today, but it actually had fairly rough-and-tumble origins as a gun dog. Their name reflects their early work as retrievers who would swim out after fallen waterfowl. Pudeln was a Low German word that meant "to splash," so these brave retrievers were known as pudelhund, or "water dogs." The word eventually evolved into the English "poodle."

8. Weimaraner

The beautiful grey dogs with the expressive eyes have probably only been around since the 19th century. According to tradition, that's when Grand Duke Karl August of Weimar began to selectively breed hunting dogs that were fast, had strong noses, wouldn't back down from large game like wolves or wildcats, and were smart. Karl August's breed allegedly became fashionable among his fellow Weimar noblemen, and the breed gained popularity as a bird-hunting dog as well. [Thanks to Michael Surtees of Design Noted for letting us use Madison's picture.]

9. Cocker Spaniel

Spaniels have been around as far back as the 14th century, and these popular pets also got their starts as gun dogs. English hunters prized the dogs' particularly skilled tracking of woodcocks, so the dogs became known as "cockers."

10. Bouvier des Flandres

This herding dog's name is pretty straightforward if you know a bit of French. The breed originated in Flanders, and French farmers who prized their working spirits named the Bouvier des Flandres, which translates into "Cow herder of Flanders."

11. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This spaniel takes its name from King Charles II of Britain, who was often depicted in paintings and tapestries in the company of a small spaniel and was reportedly "seldom seen without his little dogs."

12. Dachshund

The dachshund is another breed with an unexpectedly ferocious origin. When the breed was first created in the early 17th century, hunters were attempting to create a fearless, elongated dog that could dig its way into a badger's hole and do battle with the tenacious little mammals. Their name reflects this early purpose; "dachshund" means "badger dog" in German.

13. Beagle

The exact origins of the word "beagle" are a bit mysterious, but anybody who has spent much time with the breed will believe the most commonly accepted story. The American Kennel Club traces the name back to the 16th century, when the hounds became associated with the French word becguele ("noisy person") thanks to the din of their howls during hunts.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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