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11 Obscure Regional Phrases We All Should Start Using

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Now that you’ve added those 19 distinctly American words to your vocabulary, here are 11 more phrases from different linguistic regions around the country—courtesy of the wonderful Dictionary of American Regional English, edited by Joan Hall.

Keep in mind that these phrases are representative not only of a geographic region, but also of certain linguistic subsets, which split down generational, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. So if you’re a 25-year-old, chances are you may not have heard every phrase uttered by an octogenarian living across the state.

1. Stew the Dishrag

If you just found out you’ve got twelve guests coming over for dinner, you’d better hop-to and stew the dishrag, a phrase that means “to go to great lengths to prepare a meal, especially for unexpected guests” in parts of the Midwest. Another way of saying a similar thing is to put the big pot on the little one, dish-rag and all.

2. Feel Like a Stewed Witch

In much of the South, after a rough night’s sleep or a little too much hooch, you might wake up, stretch, rub your head and declare that you feel like a stewed witch, a wonderful phrase that means pretty much exactly what it sounds like: pretty icky. A variation on this theme is to feel like a boiled owl.

3. Vomiting One's Toenails

In several regions of the U.S., people have been describing the act of barfing violently or copiously as vomiting one’s toenails—a phrase that, to anyone who’s participated in that action, feels uncomfortably apt. In parts of Texas, they’re partial to vomiting one’s socks, which means the same thing.

4. On the Carpet

If you’re on the mid-Atlantic seaboard and you just can’t wait to tie the knot—to get married! to strap on that ball-and-chain!—you’re said to be on the carpet, a phrase that means just itchin’ to get hitched.

5. Sonofabitch Stew

Should you find yourself stewing the dishrag with not much in your pantry, you may have to make a big batch of sonofabitch stew, which describes a soup made from pretty much anything you happen to have lying around. That sort of meal is also described as rascal stew, Cleveland stew, and, according to a 1942 article in Gourmet magazine, son-of-a-gun stew—should you find yourself “in the presence of a lady.”

6. Democrat Hound

In parts of New England, calling someone a democrat hound suggests he’s an otherwise intelligent animal who has taken up the wrong scent, like when a rabbit hound chases a fox.

7 & 8. That Dog Won’t Hunt / That Cock Won't Fight

Next time you’re in the Ozarks or Texas and someone comes up with a bad idea, go ahead and tell them that dog won’t hunt, a satisfying phrase describing an idea that simply won’t succeed. Also, if you want to stretch your linguistic legs a bit, try out that cock won’t fight, which means basically the same thing.

9. Buck Beer

Those of you who’ve chanced into a German beer bar recently, possibly in the Midwest, may have had occasion to use the old-timey phrase, buck beer, to describe a good draught of the strongest stuff on tap—so called because it causes the drinker to caper, leap and, well, buck.

10. (Not Enough Sense to) Pound Sand Down a Rathole

In New York state, if you don’t have enough sense to pound sand down a rathole, you’re probably in some sort of trouble and not getting out of it any time soon. It means you don’t have enough sense to do the simplest thing.

11. Whoopity Scoot

If you need to get some place in a hurry—lickety-split, pell mell, on the double!—you’d better whoopity scoot, a phrase that means to move rapidly, but not necessarily with any grace. Any Missourians still use this one?
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What words or phrases from your neck of the woods should the rest of us start using?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]