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16 OED Words That Became Obscure (Including Bransle, the Twerk of 1662)

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In a moment of cultural serendipity (or, depending on how you look at it, calamity), Oxford Dictionaries Online just announced that “twerk” made the list of new entries to its quarterly dictionary update. While the release of the update list reliably incites horror at the debasement of the venerable Oxford Dictionary institution, not to mention the English language in general, it is important to realize the difference between Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO)—a flexible, web-only collection focused on current English usage—and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a historical record of the core of English, printed and bound on high-quality paper, from which words are never removed.

However, while most people respect the OED for enshrining the respectable, time-tested, stable fundament of English, they enjoy it for preserving the odd, rare, and obsolete, exactly the category of entry for which “twerk” is likely headed. Here are 16 words from the latest ODO update, matched up with 16 words from the OED that had short, obscure lives.

1. Twerk, Bransle

ODO - twerk, v.: “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

OED - bransle, n.: “a kind of dance”
1662 (Samuel Pepys’ Diary) “They danced the Bransle.”

2. Omnishambles, Acang

ODO - omnishambles, n.: “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.”

OED - acang, v.: "to act foolishly, lose self-control"
1200 (St. Katherine manuscript) “Hu nu, dame, dotestu? Cwen, acangestu nu mid alle þes oðre?”

3. Selfie, Dap

ODO - selfie, n.: “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

OED - dap, n.: "likeness, image"
1746 (Exmoor Scolding) “Tha hast tha very Daps o' thy old muxy Ont Sybyl.”

4. Food Baby, Gutling

ODO - food baby, n.: “a protruding stomach caused by eating a large quantity of food and supposedly resembling that of a woman in the early stages of pregnancy.”

OED - gutling, n.: “a great eater, a glutton”
1632 (Robert Sanderson sermon) “The Poets..made themselues bitterly merry with descanting vpon..the fatte paunches of these lasie gutlings.”

5. A/W, M.B.

ODO - A/W, abbrev.: “autumn/winter (denoting or relating to fashion designed for the autumn and winter seasons of a particular year).”

OED - M.B., n.: Initialism for “Mark of the Beast,” used in “M.B. waistcoat”
1874 (W.E. Gladstone) “[The undivided clerical waistcoat] was deemed so distinctly Popish, that it acquired the nickname of ‘The Mark of the Beast’; and..among the tailors..was familiarly known as ‘the M.B. waistcoat’.”

6. Fauxhawk, Bullhead

ODO - fauxhawk, n.: “a hairstyle in which a section of hair running from the front to the back of the head stands erect, intended to resemble a Mohican haircut (in which the sides of the head are shaved).”

OED - bullhead, n.: “a mass of curled or frizzled hair worn over the forehead”
1672 (Andrew Marvell) “To trick up the good old Bishop in a yellow Coif and a Bulls-head, that he may..appear in Fashion.”

7. Grats, Sdeign

ODO - grats, pl. n.: “congratulations”

OED - sdeign, v.: "Shortening of disdain"
1590 (Faerie Queene) “They sdeigned such lasciuious disport.”

8. Hackerspace, Anythingarian

ODO - hackerspace, n.: “a place in which people with an interest in computing or technology can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.”

OED - anythingarian, n.: “One who professes no creed in particular; an indifferentist.”
1704 (Thomas Brown) “Such bifarious anythingarians, that always make their interest the standard of their religion.”

9. Geek Chic, Sheepsy-Wolvesy

ODO - geek chic, n.: “the dress, appearance, and culture associated with computing and technology enthusiasts, regarded as stylish or fashionable.”

OED - sheepsy-wolvesy, adj.: “wolves in sheep’s clothing”
1657 (Jeffry Watts) “Linsie woolsie, sheepsie woolvsie prophets.”

10. Cake Pop, Flip-Flap

ODO - cake pop, n.: “a small round piece of cake coated with icing or chocolate and fixed on the end of a stick so as to resemble a lollipop.”

OED - flip-flap, n.: “a kind of tea cake.”
1876 (The Golden Butterfly) “As we sat over her dough-nuts and flipflaps.”

11. Squee, 'catso

ODO - squee, exclam. & v. & n.: “(used to express) great delight or excitement.”

OED - ‘catso, int.: an interjection akin to “what! Gods me!” from Italian cazzo the “membrum virile.”
1708 (Motteux’s translation of Rabelais) “Cat-so! let us..drink.”

12. Srsly, 'Cavy

ODO - srsly, adv.: “short for ‘seriously’.”

OED - ‘cavy, n. & adj.: short for “cavalier.”
1650 (Mutatus Polemo) “The Cavies being at that time ready to turn anything, except Roundhead, for some money to be chirpingly drunk.”

13. Babymoon, Chop-loge

ODO - babymoon, n.: “a relaxing or romantic holiday taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born; a period of time following the birth of a baby during which the new parents can focus on establishing a bond with their child.”

OED - chop-loge, n.: short for chop-logic, one who chops logic, “a contentious, sophistical arguer”
1542 (Udall’s translation of Erasmus) “He..with lacke of vitailles brought those chop-logues or greate pratlers as lowe as dogge to the bow.”

14. Balayage, Frizilation

ODO - balayage, n.: “a technique for highlighting hair in which the dye is painted on in such a way as to create a graduated, natural-looking effect.”

OED - frizilation, n.: the act of frizzling the hair
1567 “Her chief and comon exercise..was, to force a frizilacion of her haire.”

15. Buzzworthy, Coleworts

ODO - buzzworthy, adj.: “likely to arouse the interest and attention of the public, either by media coverage or word of mouth.”

OED - coleworts, n.: old news. Literally, a cabbage-like plant. From the proverb for “old news,” “coleworts twice sodden.”
1644 (Chirologia) “It being better sometimes to use a licentious and unwarrantable motion, then alwayes to obtrude the same Coleworts.”

16. Unlike, Unlike

ODO - unlike, v.: “withdraw one’s liking or approval of (a web page or posting on a social media website that one has previously liked).”

OED - unlike, v.: “to give up liking; to cease to like”
1761 (Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph) “My heart is not in a disposition to love... I cannot compel it to like, and unlike, and like anew at pleasure.”

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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.