CLOSE
Original image

8 Words of the Year from Other Countries

Original image

As we recently reported, the American Dialect Society picked hashtag as the word of the year for 2012. The dictionary folks at Merriam-Webster chose capitalism and socialism, based on the number of lookups those words got during the year. The team at Oxford American Dictionaries chose GIF. As the nominees for these contests are chosen and debated, from Thanksgiving through the first week of January, word lovers are treated to (or subjected to, depending on what kind of word lover you are) a whirlwind of media discussion of words and how we’ve used them during the year.

But we are not the only ones with this fetish for word of the year pronouncements. Here are some of the word of the year choices from other countries.

1. Rettungsroutine, Germany
This word means “rescue routine” or “bailout” and was prominent this year in discussions of the European economic crisis. It was chosen by the Association for the German Language, beating out words like Bildungsabwendungsprämie (“education avoidance subsidy,” a term used by opponents of the creation of a child care allowance for parents keeping their kids out of state-run day care) and Fluch-Hafen (“cursed-port,” a play on Flughafen, or “airport,” referring to the drawn out and increasingly costly construction of a new airport in Berlin).

2. Project X-feest, Netherlands
The word of the year in the Netherlands is announced by dictionary publisher Van Dale. “Project X-party” is a spontaneous party that grows out of control due to people spreading the word on social media. It’s named for the American film Project X, about such a party, but entered the Dutch vocabulary in a big way after a Facebook invitation to a girl’s 16th birthday party escalated into a riot in the small town of Haren in the Netherlands.

3. Frietchinees, Belgium
Van Dale also announces a Flemish word of the year for Belgium. Frietchinees or “Chinese fryer,” refers to the phenomenon of Asian people running Belgian fry shops.

4. Entroikado, Portugal
In a vote run by the Portuguese publisher Porto Editora, entroikado, or “en-troika-ed,” won for word of the year. It means “to be forced to live under the conditions imposed by the troika.” The troika in this case is made up of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.

5. Watture, France
Watture was selected the winner at the XYZ Festival of New Words in Le Havre. It’s a clever blend of “watt,” as in “wattage,” and voiture (car). It means “electric car.”

6. Mèng 梦, China
The Education Ministry in China runs a poll to select the Chinese character of the year, and the winner this year was the character meaning “dream.” There was some disagreement over how the choice should be interpreted, with the government playing up its reflection of the wonderful dreams fulfilled by China this year (“The dream for an aircraft carrier, the dream for a Nobel Prize…”) and various citizens responding that it was a particularly ironic choice for times in which corruption has made it so difficult for ordinary people to attain their dreams. In a separate, online poll, voters chose bào 曝 (exposure) as the character of the year, in reference to the exposure of official corruption.

7. kin金, Japan
After a public vote, the Japan Kanji Proficiency Society announces the kanji (character) of the year every December 12, otherwise known as Kanji Day. This year the character meaning “gold” was selected. The character appears in the written form for “milestone” and it represents some of the events of the year, including the Olympic gold medals won by Japan, a Nobel Prize in medicine for Shinya Yamanaka, the completion of Tokyo Skytree (the tallest structure in Japan and tallest tower in the world), and a solar eclipse.

8. Ogooglebar, Swedish
Instead of picking one word of the year, the Swedes, in their egalitarian way, make a list of all the new words of the year. The Swedish Language Council announced their annual list of words that “show that language is a result of an ongoing democratic process in which we all participate.” This year there were 40 words on the list. Some of them were straight English borrowings, such as “brony,” some were references to local scandals like Tintingate, and some were pure Swedish, like henifiera (henify), referring to the practice of replacing the gendered “he” and “she” pronouns in Swedish (han and hon) with the neutral hen. Since mental_floss protocol demands a heading for this list item, however, I chose the delightful, bouncy ogooglebar. It means “ungoogleable.”

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES