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12 New Words Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013

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With last year edging quickly out of view in 2014's rear view mirror, there's still a pivotal part of 2013 logophiles shouldn't be quick to forget: a bumper crop of new words bolstering the Oxford English Dictionary's lexicon. The OED upped its entry count with three updates last year—here's a snapshot retrospective of the words committed to dictionary immortality in 2013.

1. Au pair (v.)

Au pair, the noun meaning "...a young girl learning the language of a foreign country while rendering certain services in return for hospitality," has been kicking around the OED since first being published in 1933. It took 80 years for the Oxford English Dictionary to recognize the verb form, meaning exactly what it says: "to act as an au pair for (a person or family)." 

2. Braggadocious (adj.)

Characterized by braggadocio; boastful, arrogant. A caution for international readers looking to pepper conversations with the bulky adjective: Oxford Dictionaries Online states that its usage is "informal, chiefly U.S."

3. Clunker (n.)

An old or dilapitated vehicle or machine, especially a car. Also: a large, ungainly or inelegant example of something, also with etymological roots as an informal North American word. Its less literal but equally blunt secondary entry defines a clunker as "an unsuccessful effort; a failure, a 'dud.'"

4. Defriend (v.)

According to Oxford Dictionaries Online's quick definition, it means "another term for 'unfriend.'" (Side note: "unfriend" was the Oxford Word of the Year in 2009. The 2013 honoree, in case you missed it, was "selfie.") The Oxford English Dictionary offers this slightly more detailed definiton instead: "to remove (a person) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website."

5. Flash mob (n.)

A large public gathering at which people perform an unusual or seemingly random act and then disperse, typically organized by means of the Internet or social media. The addition marks the second appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary for "flash mob." The first entry? A slang historical definition of the phrase as "a group of thieves, confidence tricksters, or other petty criminals, esp. ones who assume respectable or fashionable dress or behaviour; such people considered as a class."

6. Geekery (n.)

The first definition might be a more unexpected one—"the bizarre or grotesque acts performed by a carnival or circus geek, regarded collectively. Also in extended use. Now rare."—but the secondary definition of geekery is more common in 2013 than abnormal circus shows: "Actions or behavior typical of a geek or geeks; spec. obsessive devotion to or knowledge of a particular (specified) subject or pursuit, esp. one regarded as unfashionable or highly technical. Also: the state of being a geek; geekiness."

7. Live blog (n.)

A blog providing commentary on an event while it is taking place, esp. in the form of frequent short updates. Making "live-blogging" a verb requires a hyphen and an object that was live-blogged. Live-blogging joins the dictionary ten years after "blog" first appeared in the March 2003 edition of the OED.

8. Mochaccino (n.)

Capuccino coffee containing chocolate syrup or flavoring; a cup of this. Though the word was a new addition to the Oxford English Dictionary in June of 2013, the Oxford Dictionaries website proves that the portmanteau of "mocha" and "capuccino" is not all that new—the term originated back in the 1980s. It comes iced, too: the word also applies to "a similarly flavoured frozen drink."

9. Mouseover (n.)

The action of moving a pointer on to an element of a graphical user interface or web page; an event (esp. a visual change) triggered by this. Oxford Dictionaries offers a second definition for the word, generally used as a modifier for annoying web-surfing ads: "an image or hyperlink that appears when a cursor is moved over a specific point on a web page."

10. Veepstakes (n.)

The notional competition among politicians to be chosen as a party’s candidate for vice president. Another newly-minted word with historical roots (the mash-up of "veep" and "sweepstakes" first occured in the 1960s), "veepstakes" can be used either as a singular or plural noun. 

11. Whip-smart (adj.)

Neat and trim; impeccably tailored, stylish (and as the Oxford English Dictionary entry denotes, "now somewhat rare.") Or, in its secondary definition, "very quick-witted and intelligent." Like its fellow March entry, "braggadocious," "whip-smart" is also an informal, "chiefly North American" word.

12. Young adult (n., adj.)

As a noun, "young adult" is defined as, well, a young adult. (More specifically, "a person in his or her teens or early twenties; (now esp.) a person in his or her early to mid teens, an adolescent. In pl.: such people collectively, esp. considered as a category of the population as a whole." Adjectively, "young adult" takes on a more genre-defined definition: "Of or relating to a young adult; (now esp.) designating or relating to fiction, films, television programmes, etc., intended or suitable for adolescents in their early to mid teens."

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]

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