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Terri Dann

12 Really Forced Portmanteaux That Didn't Catch On

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Terri Dann

There are times when one big word can more effectively do the job of two words. These are not those times.

1. Balloonatic (balloon + lunatic)

A person who is balloon-mad; a balloonist, spec. (Mil. slang) a member of a balloon corps or balloon squadron in the First World War (1914–18).

When the first manned hot air balloon took flight in France in 1783, it ushered in an age of utter balloonacy. While so-called “observation” balloons were used to monitor opponents’ movements as far back as the French Revolutionary Wars of the late eighteenth century, World War I gave the term “balloonatic” a fresh shade of meaning; turns out giant tethered balls of hydrogen are obvious targets for enemy fighter planes (armed with incendiary bullets, no less). To slightly increase balloonatics’ survival odds in the event of a catastrophe, every man on board was given a parachute and instructions to abandon ship (or sky) at the first sign of trouble.

2. Scandiknavery (Scandinavian + Knavery)

Deceit or trickery by Scandinavians.

A nonce-word created by James Joyce for use in a poem in his novel Finnegan’s Wake. This is one of the many Scandinavian references peppered throughout the book, in a nod to Dublin's heritage as an early Viking settlement. To experience modern-day Scandiknavery firsthand, attempt to furnish a home for a respectable adult using only furniture you have procured from an IKEA.

3. Blunch (breakfast + lunch)

A mid-morning combination meal closer to lunch.

In its earlier years, the word "brunch" didn't have a monopoly on describing midmorning meals. In 1896, the English magazine Punch warned readers, "The combination-meal, when nearer to luncheon, is 'blunch.' Please don't forget this."

4. Psychedelicatessen (psychedelic + delicatessen)

A shop selling psychedelic articles. Now chiefly in extended use with reference to music and art.

The earliest attestation of this word comes from a 1966 issue of the Los Angeles Times, where it was employed to describe a place on the Sunset Strip at which a publicist “sat sipping a beer […] and mused about the fate of the Beatles in America.” Obviously, psychedelicatessens have not changed at all since the mid-sixties.

5. prostisciutto (prostitute + prosciutto)

A female prostitute regarded metaphorically as an item on a menu.

A term coined by Samuel Beckett in his first published poem, "Whoroscope," which drew inspiration from the biography of philosopher René Descartes. Possibly because “ho-ham” sounded too low-class.

6. alcoholiday (alcohol + holiday)

Leisure time spent drinking.

This word appeared in a 1913 New York Times story titled "New Arrivals in Portmanteau Land." Other new arrivals that year: "crilk" (cream + milk), "insinuendo" (insinuation + innuendo), and "bungaloafer" (bungalow + loafer).

7. mirthquake (mirth + earthquake)

An extremely funny play, film, or other entertainment.

This term first appeared in an advertisement for a play called Climbing Roses, billed as “A Farcical Mirthquake in Three Acts.” Paradoxically, the use of “mirthquake” in the ad’s description pretty much guarantees the play was anything but.

8. affluenza (affluence + influenza)

A psychological malaise supposedly affecting (esp. young) wealthy people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.

The most insufferable of afflictions, many attempt to cure themselves of affluenza by embarking on a strict (lax) regimen of “Eat, Pray, Love”-ing.

9. womoonless (womanless + moonless)

Both womanless and moonless.

Another nonce-word coined by James Joyce, this one for his novel Ulysses. Womoonless is used to describe a very specific (and, likely, dark and dull) kind of marsh.

10. rhubarbative (rebarbative + rhubarb

Bad-tempered, fractious, disagreeable.

Though, in actuality, this blend is a pun that combines the repellant meaning of “rebarbative” with the tart taste of “rhubarb” (incidentally, historically used as a purgative to release ill humors from the body), it’s unlikely anyone would call you out if you used it to describe a delicious pie.

11. loco-restive (locomotive + restive)

Inclined to remain in one place.

First used in 1796, this word likely passed into obscurity because it’s much harder to build a kicking instructional dance-track around a sedentary concept.

12. saccharhinoceros (saccharine + rhinoceros)

A lumbering person with an excessively effusive or affectedly sentimental manner.

A stinging description of Santa Claus you might lob around if you didn’t feel like receiving any presents this year.
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Should we bring any of these back? Leave your other favorite portmanteaux — real or imagined — in the comments.

Except for #3 and #6, all definitions courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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