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10 Previous Word of the Year Candidates That Didn't Catch On

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Last week Oxford Dictionaries named "squeezed middle" the Global Word of the Year,* edging out terms like "clicktivism," "fracking" and "tiger mother." A quick look through past lists like these tells us Words of the Year don’t always stand the test of time. Here are ten examples.

1. Bushlips

Anyone who remembers George H. W. Bush’s “read my lips” speech from 1988 probably also remembers that in 1990, the new president raised several taxes as part of a budget balancing agreement. The outrage resulted in the term bushlips, which is interchangeable with bullsh*t, apparently.

2. (To) pluto
Poor Pluto. After our ninth planet’s recategorization in 2006, when something was demoted or devalued, it was plutoed. “I used to be the manager, but I got plutoed. Is this for here or to go?” Five years after topping the American Dialect Society (ADS) list, this one still hasn’t caught on. Time for a retroactive plutoing of pluto?

3. Meatspace
OED lexicographer Susie Dent chose "meatspace" as representative of 1995. If you're curious, meatspace is the real world, as opposed to cyberspace.

4. Intexticated

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In 2009 this word, which means "to be distracted by texting while driving," was shortlisted by Oxford Dictionaries, but ultimately defeated by unfriend.

5. Phelpsian
Remember when Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics? So do we. What’s not so memorable is the ensuing use of Phelpsian as an adjective, as in “Phelpsian Pheat,” or an achievement “excellent in the fashion of Michael Phelps.” You’re probably better off sticking with the decidedly older Herculean.

6. Lawn mullet
Business in the front, party in the back—assuming “business” means “neatly manicured” and “party” means “unmowed.”

7. Recombobulation area
The ADS winner of Most Creative in 2008, the "recombobulation area" is the place in which passengers are allowed to recover their belongings and composure after an airport security check—a procedure not-so-affectionately dubbed "gate rape," a term voted 2010’s Most Outrageous by ADS.

8. Kummerspeck
Literally “grief fat” or “grief bacon,” Kummerspeck is a German word that describes weight gain from emotional overeating (we may have had a hand in this one). The word has potential, since there’s no direct English equivalent, but we think “grief bacon” is a bit catchier. Even so, Kummerspeck was shortlisted by Global Language Monitor as one of the Top Words of 2011; "Occupy" topped that list this year.

9. (To) newt
Another verb coined from political events, newting is the practice of making aggressive changes as a newcomer, from Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America in 1995. That year, to newt tied with the more useful worldwide web and its derivatives, WWW and the web.

10. Millennium bug
You probably know millennium bug by its more famous moniker, Y2K, but in 1997 this was the name for a potential global disaster caused by the two-digit year format, which threatened to disrupt banking and transit systems at the stroke of the new year. (We survived.) Unsurprisingly, Y2K topped the ADS list in 1999.
* * *
Anyone want to bring any of these back? What are some words you hope do (or don’t) work their way into everyday use?

* I know what you're thinking. Here's how Oxford University Press explained it: "From a dictionary-maker's point of view, a two-word expression is called a 'compound' and is treated as one word [a 'headword'] in the dictionary. This is not the first time that a two-word expression has been selected as our WOTY. In 2010, the UK Word of the Year was 'big society.'"

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]