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10 Old-Fashioned Swears to Spice up Your Cussin'

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People just don't swear like they used to. As long ago as 1944, H.L. Mencken, the great observer of American language, sadly noted that cursing had been on the decline since the Civil War, and that while there was still obscenity, "it is all based upon one or two four-letter words and their derivatives, and there is little true profanity in it."

Taboos against what we would today consider pretty mild exclamations like "damn!" "hell!" and "Jesus Christ!" led the swearers of years past to come up with creative substitutions that gave them some measure of emotional release while keeping within the bounds of propriety. These substitutions are called "minced oaths," and they've left their mark on our vocabulary. Gosh, gee, golly, dagnamit, darn, drat, gadzooks, zounds, heck, and cripes are all minced oaths that are still around to charm us with their innocent old-timey ring. But there are others you may not have heard of. They could come in handy when you get tired of ho-hum obscenity and want something with a little more profane zing.

1. Bejabbers!

A substitute for "by Jesus!" that is similar to "bejesus!" but jabbier. An Irish import, along the lines of "faith and begorrah!" Especially good for toe-stubbing.

2. Consarn!

A substitute for "goddamn." From an 1854 Dictionary of Northamptonshire words: "Consarn you! If you don't mind what you're about I'll give it to you!" Slow down and hit both syllables equally hard, and it's like squeezing a stress ball.

3. Dad-Sizzle!

Another "goddamn" form. "Well, dad-sizzle it!" was one way to show you meant business. There were a whole range of "dad" forms, from "dadgum" to dad-blast, dad-seize, dad-rat, dad-swamp, and many more. This one sounds surprisingly modern, like something Snoop Dogg (Snoop Lion?) might come up with.

4. Thunderation!

A substitute for "damnation," similar to "tarnation" and "botheration." WTF is so tired. Try "What in thunderation?" instead.

5. Great Horn Spoon!

Something you can swear by, used in a way similar to "by God!" It seems to have come from seafaring slang, and might refer to the Big Dipper. But you don't need to know the origin to find it useful. Today the strange randomness of the words makes it feel mystically satisfying to shout.

6. 'Snails!

A shortening of "by God's nails!" This kind of shortening also gave us "zounds!" (God's wounds), "Gadzooks!" (God's hooks), "strewth!" (God's truth), and "ods bodikins!" (God's little body). If you yell it thinking of actual snails instead, it's less profane, but more adorable.

7. Gosh-all-Potomac!

This one goes along with the rest of the "gosh all" family: goshamighty, gosh-all-hemlock, gosh all fish-hooks, etc. "Gosh all Potomac" is the earliest one attested in the Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles, and it's about time we brought it back.

8. G. Rover Cripes!

One of the minced oaths that approximate the sounds in "Jesus Christ!" it uses all the strategies found elsewhere: the "gee" sound (Gee! Jeepers! Jeez!), the middle name (Jesus H. Particular Christ!), and the "cr" sound (Crikey! Criminy! Cracky! Christmas!).

9. By St. Boogar and all the saints at the backside door of purgatory!

There is no St. Boogar. This is a line from Sterne's Tristram Shandy, considered by scholars to have a homoerotic subtext. Let it fly with pride!

10. By the double-barrelled jumping jiminetty!

It's too bad the tradition of productive, long "by the" swears has fallen out of fashion. You could load enough crazy-sounding nonsense on there to really scare your kids into cleaning their rooms.

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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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