CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

11 Words and Phrases Popularized by World War I

Original image
Getty Images

This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. (Mental Floss has been commemorating it in a series of articles on the events leading up to the war). The Oxford English Dictionary is honoring the centenary with an appeal to the public for help in finding the earliest documented uses of words that first came into English during World War I. The current citations for these words are from magazines and newspapers, but there may be earlier examples in personal letters, soldiers' diaries, or government records. Can you find earlier uses? Submit your evidence and help the OED capture the history of our language.

1. Camouflage

Camouflage had been used in French to mean "disguise" since the 19th century. The earliest evidence of its use in English, in reference to hiding weapons from the enemy, comes from 1916.

2. Shell shock

A 1915 study by psychologist Charles Samuel Myers titled, "A contribution to the study of shell shock" is the first documentation for the use of this term in English. "But some accounts suggest that Myers did not invent the term; that it was already in use at the front and Myers merely popularized it (and regretted it: in a later book he described shell shock as a ‘singularly ill-chosen term’)."

3. Jusqu'auboutiste

Jusqu'au bout, "until the end" in French, was the basis for the formation of this noun referring to someone willing to stick it out until the bitter end, to carry a conflict to extremes without worrying about the consequences. The earliest example is from a 1917 issue of Punch, but the use of "jusqu'au bout" in English to describe the attitude goes back at least as early as 1915 so the noun may have been formed earlier.

4. Demob

Short for demobilization. The first quotations for both the noun and verb form come from 1919.

5. Streetcar (meaning "a shell")

The earliest citation for this slang term is from 1920, but the novelist Raymond Chandler claimed in a 1950 letter that this had been one of "the most commonly used words of soldier-slang" when he served in WWI. There may be more evidence out there for this one.

6. Conchie

Short (and usually derisive) for "conscientious objector." The earliest quote comes from a 1917 Daily Mail article. Britain began military conscription in 1916.

7. Trench foot/mouth

The trench warfare of WWI was brutal, and the environment of the trenches where soldiers spent so much time led to painful conditions they called trench foot, and trench mouth. The earliest printed evidence for these terms comes from 1915 and 1917 respectively.

8. Tank (as a verb)

The military tank was first used in 1916 and the word has been used as a noun ever since, but we only have evidence of tank used as a verb in the sense of "attack with a tank" or "travel by tank" since 1930. The OED editors say that while "there is plenty of earlier evidence for the verb tank relating to the noun meaning ‘large receptacle’, we find it surprising that there are no earlier uses of the verb relating to the military vehicle. Is there evidence we haven’t found yet?"

9. Eyetie

Also spelled as "iti" or "eyety," this was a slang term for an Italian. The earliest evidence for this form is a 1919 quote claiming that "our army in Italy always spoke of the Italians as the 'Itis' (pronounced 'Eye-ties')."

10. Zeppelins in a cloud

This phrase was used to mean "sausage and mashed potatoes" according to a 1925 dictionary of Soldier & Sailor Words. But so far no pre-1925 documentation has been found.

11. Sam Browne (meaning "an officer")

Army officers used to wear something called Sam Browne belts in the 19th century, and that gave rise to the use of Sam Browne as a slang term for officer during WWI, though the first evidence for the use is from 1919.

The list of OED appeals for WWI words is here, and you can find out more about what kind of evidence they're looking for and how to submit it here.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
© Nintendo
arrow
fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
Original image
© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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