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19 Obscure Regional Words All Americans Should Adopt Immediately

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When traveling across the United States, it sometimes feels like the locals are speaking a whole different language. That's where the Dictionary of American Regional English comes to the rescue. The last installment of this staggering five-volume tome, edited by Joan Houston Hall, was published in 2012, and let me tell you, it’s a whoopensocker.

In celebration of slang, here’s a list of 19 delightful obscure words from around the U.S. that you'll want to start working into conversation. 

1. whoopensocker (n.), Wisconsin
You know when something’s wonderfully unique, but the words “wonderful” and “unique” don’t quite cut it? That’s why the Wisconsinites invented whoopensocker, which can refer to anything extraordinary of its kind—from a sweet dance move to a knee-melting kiss.

2. snirt (n.), Upper Midwest
A gem of a portmanteau, this word means exactly what it sounds like: a mixture of windblown snow and dirt. Also, for your linguistic pleasure, try out the adjective version: snirty.

3. slug (n. or v.), Washington, D.C.
In addition to describing that shell-less snail-looking creature, a “slug” describes a traveler who hitches a ride with someone who needs passengers in order to use a High Occupancy Vehicle lane. The verb form, “to slug,” refers to the act of commuting in that manner. In New Hampshire, to gee-buck means something similar: to hitch a ride on the back of someone else’s sleigh.

4. wapatuli, (n.), Wisconsin
Nearly everyone who has been to college in America has either concocted, or been an unfortunate victim of, wapatuli: a homemade alcoholic drink with any combination of hard liquors or other beverages—Mountain Dew, white wine and vodka, anyone? A wapatuli can also refer to the occasion at which that jungle juice is consumed.

In Kentucky, the (perhaps more onomatopoeically correct) word for terrible liquor is splo, while in the mid-Atlantic, whiskey—especially the moonshine variety—is ratgut.

5. arsle (v.), Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas
Depending on the state, this word can mean a few things—to fidget, to back out of a place or situation, or to loaf around restlessly—pretty much all of which describe my activities on an average Sunday afternoon. (In Maine, instead of arsling, I might putty around, and in Vermont, I’d pestle around, but either way, it still means not a whole lot is getting done.)

6. jabble (v.), Virginia
You know when you’re standing at your front door rifling through your purse for fifteen minutes because you can’t find your keys again? That’s because all the stuff in your purse got all jabbled up. This fantastic little word means “to shake up or mix,” but it can also be used less literally, meaning “to confuse or to befuddle.”

7. sneetered (v.), Kentucky
If you’ve ever been hoodwinked, duped, swindled, fleeced or scammed, you done been sneetered. The noun version, sniter, refers to that treacherous person responsible for your unfortunate sneetering. Also see snollygoster, a shameless, unscrupulous person, especially a politician.

8. slatchy (adj.), Nantucket
This lovely little word describes the sky during a fleeting moment of sunshine or blue sky in the middle of a storm. The noun version, slatch, refers to that moment itself.

9. snoopy (adj.), Maryland, Pennsylvania
A more interesting way of saying someone’s picky, especially with regards to food.

10. arky (adj.), Virginia
This word refers to Noah’s Ark, not to Arkansas, so if someone calls your style arky—old-fashioned, or out of style—you can accuse them of being an anti-antediluvianite. (Which, full disclosure, is not technically a word, but should you ever actually employ such a comeback, you will win like a million gold stars in Nerdland.)

11. faunch (v.), South Midlands, West
Meaning to rant, rave or rage, this fairly well describes what many Americans have been doing while watching cable news. (Also, try out the phrase, faunching angry, when describing the guy whose parking spot you just snaked.)

12. chinchy (adj.), South, South Midlands
Not as direct as “cheap,” and less erudite than “parsimonious,” this useful word perfectly describes your stingy friend who never chips in for gas.

13. larruping (adv.), Oklahoma, South Midlands
You know when food tastes so freakin’ delicious, but “yummy,” “scrumptious” and “tasty” just don’t do it justice? That’d be a good time to break out this fabulous word, used most often in the phrase “larruping good.”

14. mizzle-witted (adj.), South
This satisfyingly Dickensian word means “mentally dull,” but depending on where you are in the country, mizzle can also be used as a verb meaning “to confuse,” “to depart in haste” or “to abscond,” or as a noun meaning, “a very fine or misty rain.“ So, if you were a mizzle-witted burglar, you might break into a house, get mizzled, trip the alarm, and then mizzle with your loot into the mizzle. Sans raincoat.

15. burk (v.), Georgia, South
More fun than the word “vomit” and more polite than the word “fart,” this utilitarian verb describes both activities. Just be happy that if you’re in West Virginia, you don’t get the skitters—an Appalachian version of Montezuma’s revenge.

16. snuggy (n.) Iowa, Midlands
Those of us who grew up with older brothers are intimately familiar with what it is to suffer from a snuggy—a friendlier word for a wedgie.

17. jasm (n.), Connecticut
Meaning “intense energy or vitality,” the sentence provided in the dictionary was so good, I wanted to share it with you all, too: “If you'll take thunder and lightning, and a steamboat and a buzz-saw, and mix 'em up, and out 'em into a woman, that's jasm.”

18. mug-up (n.), Alaska
When Alaskans took a break from work, grabbed a pastry or a cup of joe, and gazed out at Russia, they were enjoying a “mug-up”—a version of a coffee break.

19. bufflehead (n.), Pennsylvania (mountains)
You would have to be a real bufflehead if you didn’t think this word, meaning a fool or idiot, is not an awesome insult. Also, for your consideration, the related adjective buffle-brained.

Note: Many of these words have more than five different definitions, in addition to five different spellings, depending on the region—or even the region within the region—from whence they came. (There’s a reason there are five volumes!) To find out more about the Dictionary of American Regional English, the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a great website about the project.

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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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May 23, 2017
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